ooVoo, a relative newcomer to video conferencing, is looking to challenge other mobile video chat apps such as Skype, the reigning champ of video chat. In ooVoo's arsenal: cross-platform video and voice calling for Android and iOS devices that can connect up to six video calls at a time. Is that enough to help this app go mainstream?
ooVoo Mobile is a cinch to download and set up. We found both the Android and iOS versions of the app in their respective app stores (3.55MB for Android and 4.6MB for iOS) and installed both in less than a minute.
The app is available for Android and iOS devices, specifically the iPhones 4 and 3GS, the iPod Touch, both the first and second-generation iPads, any smartphones running Android version 2.2, and such tablets as the Samsung Galaxy Tab. ooVoo Mobile doesn't currently work with the Motorola Xoom.
As of May 2011, ooVoo has 25 million users of its desktop video-chat software. That's far fewer than Skype's 170 million users, so it's unlikely you'll find scores of friends using the service, but ooVoo does make it easy to invite new users with a handy tool for adding Skype callers to group video chats without forcing them to download the app.
Click to enlargeooVoo's Android and iOS applications are much better-looking than their drab desktop counterpart, namely because they use an orange, white, and black color scheme instead of a boring spread of grays and black. Similar to Skype, ooVoo includes sections for voice calls, text chat, contact management (including group lists), call history, pre-paid landline calls and video chat. Though the desktop client works with three video callers at a time, the mobile app supports six video users at once.
Mobile Call Quality
We tested ooVoo Mobile on the iPhone 4, an HTC Evo 4G, and a Samsung Epic 4G, making calls between two phones and to a Toshiba Tecra R840 notebook over 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi.
When making a call over two phones connected to Sprint's 4G network, details such as our plaid shirt pattern were blurry, but colors were accurate and the video connection was steady. Using an iPhone on Verizon's 3G network and the Epic 4G on WiMAX, image quality was not great. Video from the iPhone was dark and blotchy, and pixel noise was slow to disappear. When making calls over Wi-Fi, quality on both phones improved, although there were moments of intense distortion.
As with phone-to-phone video chats, calls made from a phone to the ooVoo client on a desktop computer worked best over Wi-Fi, with the Epic 4G performing the best. Even when we panned the phone around a room, images remained smooth. Over 3G and 4G, the Epic 4G's video was barely visible. The iPhone 4 didn't perform as well over Wi-Fi; it occasionally showed a jumbled mix of large-sized pixels during otherwise decent calls.
In general, Skype offered better video quality when using the iPhone 4's 3G connection, and Google Chat and Fring performed better over 4G. Video during those calls was sharper and cleaner than the blurriness we noticed in ooVoo.
Special Features and Paid Services
The free desktop version of ooVoo includes audio and video calls with up to three people, file sharing, desktop sharing, free online video chat hosting, and group and individual IM/chat. Other tools include the ability to record and send 1-minute video messages and send your friends URLs that connect to an established video chat room. However, none of these features are available in the smartphone apps.
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A neat feature allows six mobile users to share a video call simultaneously, but they can only stream one video feed from any other caller at a time. During those multi-party calls, each user can select one video from any of the other five callers, and they can switch between the videos at any time. During our mobile device tests, we launched four simultaneous calls over Wi-Fi. Video quality was surprisingly strong, even when we cycled between different video feeds.
ooVoo also offers two pre-paid plans. The $9.95-per-month ooVoo Plus plan includes 200 phone minutes per month, capacity to send 20MB files, and e-mail support. The $29.95 per month ooVoo Pro plan includes 500 minutes a month, desktop screen sharing, 25MB file transfers and live tech support. Also, both paid plans allow users to conduct video calls with up to six people using the desktop app. Without a plan, calls to domestic and international numbers start at about $0.02 per minute. By comparison, Skype minutes start at about $0.02/minute, and Fring offers prices that start at less than $0.01/minute.
Overall, ooVoo's picture quality was not as good as the competition. iPhone owners with a rolodex of Skype subscribers may want to stick to that video-chat service, and when it comes to face-to-face calls with buddies on Android phones, we suggest Fring or Tango. But ooVoo's multi-party feature is nice to have for those who need to conduct conference calls.