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Google Allo review: Google's Allo messenger app is a know-it-all

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Smart Replies aren't limited to text either. When you send over a photo, Allo can recognize the subject matter and call up responses to images, too. A photo of tacos generated replies like, "Nom nom nom" and, "Looks delish" (see what I said about it being colloquial?) and if Allo recognizes a landmark like a photo of Brandenburg Gate, it will identify the monument and can begin search queries for the famous gate itself, Berlin or architecture in general.

Incognito Mode and other fun stuff

If the idea of Google monitoring your chats creeps you out, there's Incognito Mode. This isn't the default mode because you won't get any features like Assistant or Smart Reply. But when you choose to go Incognito, you'll get end-to-end encryption, meaning Google and other nosy third-party partners aren't accessing your conversation. Incognito Mode also lets you set an expiration time (ranging from 5 seconds to one week) that will make your chat will disappear on schedule.

Other features include blocking contacts, fun sticker packs and the ability to annotate and doodle on images before you send them. You can also increase or decrease text size to reflect if you're figuratively shouting or whispering your reply (just like in Apple's new Messages app with other iOS users).

Allo's Incognito Mode that will erase a conversation after an hour (left) and its Emoji movie game (right).

Lynn La/CNET

Why consider Allo?

Google Allo is about the zillionth messaging app in existence (that's just a rough estimate) so chances are you're already on a chat platform and it would be hard to convince you to join another one.

Many of these apps have their individual advantages over Allo. As an enterprise-minded platform, Hangouts has more collaborative tools, including group video calling. iMessage for iOS 10 has a lot more fun cosmetic features like screen effects and handwriting capabilities. With Facebook Messenger you can use GIFs, request rides and even send money to another user. WhatsApp has more productivity support for sharing documents and PDFs, and it's open to Windows Phone and BlackBerry users as well. Finally, all these apps have a desktop version, so you can chat seamlessly from your phone to a computer.

So many choices for chatting.

Lynn La/CNET

However, Allo does have its unique benefits. First off, it's cross-platform, which iMessage wholly lacks. iMessage's full gamut of capabilities can only be experienced through iOS 10; older iOS versions don't support all its new features, and Android users are left out altogether. At least with Allo, your iOS and Android buddies can chat together with all the same fun features.

Second, Allo's Incognito Mode, with its end-to-end encryption, is another layer of privacy I can appreciate. (Facebook Messenger doesn't have this yet.) And while it's not a unique feature -- the chat app Telegram, for example, can do the same thing -- I especially like setting expiration times for those ultrasensitive conversations.

But the most compelling feature is Google Assistant. Though chatbots do exist (indeed Facebook Messenger supports tons of them that can request rides, order food and give you weather info), Assistant is a megabot that merges together just about everything chatbots can do. Plus, calling up Assistant during a group chat means all your friends can use it together. Just think of Assistant as that one friend you have that is a little stilted in conversation, but is super helpful and always knows the right answer.

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