After a lot of requests, WhatsApp finally introduced video calling feature for iOS, Android and Windows Phone users. The name is pretty self explanatory, and essentially lets you video chat with your friends over the internet. With the likes of Apple FaceTime, Skype and Google Duo to contend with, the question is just how it will fare. We have spent some time using the video calling feature on WhatsApp, and here are our first impressions. Also Read - WhatsApp beta for iOS reveals changes, here's what users might getAlso Read - How to temporarily deactivate/permanently delete WhatsApp account
One of the biggest advantages of the video calling feature is how seamlessly it is a part of the WhatsApp, and there’s little to no changes on the app’s interface. On the Android app you won’t see a change until you have tapped on the phone button on the top-right corner on a conversation window. Instead of starting a voice call, it will now pop up two options — voice call, video call. On the iOS app, there is now a camera icon besides the phone button, which you can tap on to start a video call. On the calls screen you will now see a camera icon below the contact’s name to indicate that it was a video call.
The UI on the call screen is pretty minimal with your friend’s face dominating the screen. On the iOS app you will see three buttons at the bottom to end the call, mute or switch the camera. On the Android app you have the same buttons, and an additional ‘message’ button that takes you back to the text conversation window. There’s however a small difference here between the iOS and Android apps. When you press the message button, the Android app takes you back to text messages window, but pauses the ongoing video call. On the iOS app if you press the back button at the top-left corner, the video calling screen is minimized into a small bubble and you can continue talking with your friend while text messaging others. The effect is somewhat similar to Facebook Messenger’s chat heads.
Another difference is in the way WhatsApp notifies users of a video call when the phone’s screen is off. On Android, you get notified about an incoming video call similar to a standard call, and you can simply swipe to answer or reject a call. On iOS though, you get notified about an incoming video call via a notification card, and you will have to unlock the iPhone to see the video call screen. This process is a tad frustrating since it adds unnecessary steps to the simple processor of accepting or rejecting an incoming video call.
Moving on to the performance bit. We tested WhatsApp video call on the office’s Wi-Fi network, and the overall experience was unsurprisingly smooth. But when we switched to mobile networks, the experience was anything but. After stepping out, things improved a bit, but only just. On a couple of occasions the video froze with a pop up message — “Poor connection. Video paused.” At other times (when using a Jio connection), the video call refused to connect, even though we both were sitting side-by-side.
This comes as a bit of surprise especially since WhatsApp claims that the video calling feature is optimized to work for everyone and “not just those who can afford the most expensive new phones or live in countries with the best cellular networks. Looking at how it is just day one of roll out, we would give WhatsApp the benefit of doubt and expect improvements in the coming days. We will take a much closer look and reserve our judgments till we try out the feature in network areas in our review.
Despite a couple of performance related issues, and the fact that it arrived a tad late, there’s no denying that the video calling feature on WhatsApp will be a huge hit among users. One of the primary reasons behind it is the sheer number of users on the messaging platform, and the convenience of making video call without having to switch apps. WhatsApp s voice calling feature is one prime example, and in just over a year, users are making over 100 million calls every day. ALSO READ: WhatsApp reaches 160 million monthly active users in India; highest in the world