When Skype acquired Qik, a lot of people believed that the company would retire this app faster than you can say "Can you see me now?" But contrary to those expectations, one of the first mobile video-chat services is still very much alive and well. Aside from the ability to make calls over 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi, Qik offers some features no other chat app can boast: live video streaming, video mail, and online video storage. Do those stand-out functions help Qik excel beyond its competitors?
Qik works with a wide selection of Android devices running version 2.1 or higher (check here for a full list) and is available for fourth-generation iPod Touch devices, and any iPhone and iPad 2 with iOS 4.0 or above.
As it name implies, the app was quick to set up. Like with Fring, ooVoo Mobile, Skype, and Tango, we simply downloaded the app from the Android App Market or the iOS App Store. The Qik Android app may come under different names depending on the device (Samsung devices use Qik for Samsung, while the Atrix 4G AT&T smart phone runs Qik for Atrix), but the app was still easy to locate and install/update. There's just one app for iOS fans: Qik Video.
Unlike other mobile chat apps, Qik can do more than make video calls. The app also features tools to stream video live to the Internet, send video messages to friends, and share video via social networks.
The Qik app for iOS provides one-touch access to each of these features. The main screen is a live camera view with five buttons at the bottom. The Feed button takes you to all live streamed video; My Video lists all local and uploaded clips; the Record button lets users capture a new video; Connect launches video calls; and the last button is for Settings. Other interface controls are overlaid transparently over the live video. These options include a button to turn on live video streaming, a rotate button to switch between the front- and back-facing cameras, a zoom button, and options to share video directly through social networks (more on this later).
For video calls, the app uses e-mail addresses and phone numbers to identify existing phone contacts with Qik accounts, which are the only contacts displayed in the app. Users can tap a caller's name to chat over video or send a video message, and can invite others to sign up for Qik via text message or e-mail. That's convenient, but adding new contacts is clunky. First, we had to call a new Qik user by typing in his or her name. Then after the call was completed, we saw the name under Qik's Recent Calls list along with an option to add the caller to our contact list. It shouldn't take two steps to do something as simple as adding a buddy to your contact list.
The Android version of the Qik app offers the same features as the iOS app but in a less thoughtful layout. The home screen contains four large buttons: Video Chat for two-way video calls, Record & Share for a live-streamed video connection, Video Mail to send video messages, and Video Gallery (a list of captured, saved, and shared video clips). Each button leads to a subsection with its own individual layout.
Under Video Chat are three tabbed sections: a drop-down list with all phone contacts and Qik video chat-only contacts, recent calls, and a search area for looking up and contacting other Qik users by username. The contacts section automatically--and accurately--displayed five people with Qik accounts on an HTC Evo 4G, but we still had trouble adding new Qik accounts to our contacts. In the Android app, there was no option to add a new Qik contact.
The layout during video calls was similar in both the Android and iOS platforms. Video fills the entire screen and there are buttons along the bottom to mute the microphone, end the call, and switch between the front- and back-facing cameras. A picture-in-picture for first-person video and a ticking clock for call length are at the top of the screen. The iOS version of Qik can rotate video along with the phone's physical orientation, and it features an on-screen zoom button. The Android app offered neither of those perks.
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Like the iOS app, Android's version of Qik featured options to share video immediately via live streaming; send video messages; and share clips via Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.
Qik can make video calls over 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi and can connect Android smart phone users face-to-face with iPhone owners. We made Qik calls on two Verizon iPhone 4 smartphones, a Sprint HTC Evo 4G, and a Sprint Samsung Nexus S 4G. Long story short: Qik isn't up to making calls made over 3G, 4G calls were sometimes a struggle, and Wi-Fi offered the strongest call quality.
Over 3G, we noticed audio delays of about 20 seconds and terrible, pixelated streaming on a call between the Evo 4G and the Nexus S 4G, not to mention video that looked so blotchy we couldn't make out any details of our coworker's cluttered desk. In a call between an iPhone 4 on Wi-Fi and the Evo 4G on 3G, video on the Android smartphone froze constantly and during one call, images were about a minute behind real time.
Calls made over 4G weren't much better. Between the HTC Evo 4G and Nexus S 4G, there were fewer bouts with frozen video and video quality was much clearer, but the stream was stuttery and there was a half-second audio delay. Unfortunately, the first syllable of each of word we spoke was cut off, making conversations awkward and challenging.
Qik offered the strongest calls over Wi-Fi. On the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Nexus S 4G (both on different Wi-Fi networks), we finally obtained a steady connection with an immediate audio connection, smooth streaming video, and clear video. In a call between the Evo 4G and Nexus S 4G, both on Wi-Fi, picture quality was even, with accurate lighting and colors. When using two iPhone 4s, we could make out details such as the buttons on our caller's collared shirt and their new shaggy haircut. Still, Apple's FaceTime app captured brighter and clearer video, even though it only works on Wi-Fi.
Unlike other video-chat apps, Qik let us send video mail and stream video. Video can be broadcast live to www.qik.com/yourusername, or saved and shared via e-mail, text, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. Video clips are saved to your online Qik.com account and can be set to private or public. The video mail service is a component of Qik Premium, which costs iOS users $4.99 a month. Though it seems a little steep, the fee also includes unlimited video storage, access to the Qik desktop app for editing and organizing your video collection, and tech support. Qik will make the same premium services available to Android devices sometime before the end of the year.
Unlike Fring, ooVoo, and Skype, Qik doesn't offer calls to domestic and international landlines, and although Fring and ooVoo offer multi-caller video support, Qik only works between two callers.
Qik is chock-full of cool features. Live streaming video is certainly compelling, and bonuses such as video mail and unlimited storage for captured video clips (for $4.99 a month) certainly sweeten the deal. However, Qik doesn't work as well as Fring or Google Talk with video over 3G and 4G data networks, and adding contacts should be easier. We like Qik's interface, especially the iOS version, and the social sharing features are welcome, but this app still has some work to do in terms of streaming quality outside of Wi-Fi networks.