Thursday, 26 September 2013

Hanging Off on Hangouts

One of the joys of having my wife and son overseas involves getting to test out various means of communication. There are tons of messaging services out there, but the crown jewel comes in shape of services allowing for video calls. Amongst these I considered Google Hangouts to be the best, by virtue of the fact it allows moving between text messaging and video calls seamlessly. I thought so highly of Google Hangouts I even turned a blind eye to the way I think of Google as the slayer of all that is private, I did not care about my calls being shared with the NSA, and I created the Google+ profile necessary for using the service.
And now I’m here to tell you I have deleted Google Hangouts from my phone, deleted my Google+ profile, and have no intention of using the service in the foreseeable future. Here’s why.

Yesterday I had a half hour long video chat with my wife and son using Google Hangouts. I was having dinner at home and using my iPhone 5 through my wifi, enjoying reasonable quality picture and only one disconnection throughout. I could not avoid noting how bad the call was to my iPhone’s battery: I could see the battery indicator draining before my eyes; I could feel the phone getting hot. There was also a strange "swirl" constantly swirling at the display’s top left side, usually an indication for 3G use. It couldn’t be; I was on wifi. So I attributed it all to iOS 7 eccentricities, given the new operating system’s main feature thus far seems to be poor battery life.
However, there's more to iOS 7 than battery flattening. At least a bit more. One its new features is the provision of a breakdown of cellular usage per app. That is, it tells you how much cellular data bandwidth was consumed by each app. Androids have had this for years now, but iPhones for less than a week. As part of my getting to know the new operating system I went in to have a look.
Lo and behold what I found there! According to my iPhone, it spent 300MB of 3G on Google Hangout. That’s impossible, I thought: I was on wifi! But it had to be, given this call that I've had being the first time I used Hangout’s video facilities, and being that nothing but video can consume so much bandwidth in the few days that passed since I upgraded to iOS 7.
In order to cross reference and verify what went on here I went to my 3G provider’s app. That gave me the confirmation I needed: it told me how my phone consumed 300MB of 3G during the exact time my Google Hangouts call was taking place!
So, to summarise my findings, Google Hangouts achieved the following on my iPhone:
  1. It drained 40% off my battery in half an hour,
  2. It used 3G while I was connected to wifi,
  3. And it used 300MB of data for a bit less than half an hour of video calling.
I admit that wifi fallouts might have been possible, but even if that was the cases it appears as if Hangouts failed to revert back to wifi when it could. I also do not know if the wifi to 3G problem is Hangouts or iOS related. I don’t care, though: something very dodgy was at hand, and I am not about to linger about. I ceremoniously deleted Google Hangouts and all Google+ related affairs.

Other than Google Hangouts being the compromised smartphone video calling service it proved out to be, the problem is the alternatives are compromised, too.
First there’s Skype: I’ve been using it for years, but – how shall I put it? – ever since Microsoft took over, call quality is deteriorating fast. For example, last night I called my parent’s home line; after three disconnections in five minutes they gave up and called me back on the normal phone. (Yes, there are people out there who still use “just phones”). Skype also requires me to keep its app constantly running in the background in order to receive calls, something I will not do (the competition relies on notification services instead).
The best video call service I am aware of is Apple’s FaceTime. When I used it this week to talk to my wife at the UK, 3G to 3G, it took 37MB for a 12 minute call. Picture quality was impeccable, and when the connection was dodgy for a bit it reverted to voice only on one side of the call in order to keep the conversation going – it did not disconnect!
Problem is, FaceTime is an Apple only service that can only be used on Apple devices. Further, if you had it configured on the same Apple account in different devices you own, you won’t even be able to make intra-devices calls. Regardless, FaceTime is the clear winner here for sheer quality as – once again – Apple proves to have a special knack in that department, putting Google and Microsoft to shame.

Google Hangouts image copyrights: Google

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