If you’ve ever wanted to recapture the magic of playing with walkie talkies as a kid, there’s an app designed to do just that — 2017-style.
Marco Polo bills itself as the “video walkie talkie,” a video chat app that lets you send quick messages back and forth with your friends.
Much like Snapchat, Marco Polo traffics in messages that are only a few seconds long. Unlike Snapchat, however, the app saves your videos so you can have a running conversation with your friend or a group of friends.
Marco Polo was created by a company called Joya Communications, which says on its website that its mission is “to help people feel close no matter the distance, enabling people to remain connected in convenient and meaningful ways.”
The app has been around for more than a year, but is starting to catch on: It’s No. 3 on the App Store’s top free apps chart right now. The app has a 4.5 rating on the Google Play Store (out of 5) and more than 133,000 reviews, and a 4.5 out of 5 on the App Store.
And a quick Twitter search pulls up hundreds of tweets about the app. Some users complain about Marco Polo spamming their contacts — the app does ask to access your contacts during the set up, but it apparently has texted some users contacts in the past — but most tweets look a lot like this one:
Here’s how to use it:
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That Marco polo app is ????
If you wanna group video chat with your friends… download it
— LoveYourLife???? (@MemeLovesLife) December 23, 2016
After a quick setup (entering your phone number, adding a picture of yourself, etc.), the app takes you to your home screen. Here, you'll see tiles for each of your friends on the app. I had 10 friends on the app -- including two of my sisters! -- and was repeatedly given the option to invite others to join.
To get started, you can click on a friend's tile. It will take you to this screen, where you can swipe between several different filters before recording your video. To record, you just hit the 'Start' button.
I chose the 'America' filter, meant to look like Shepard Fairey's 'Hope' poster, in honour of President Obama's final days in office.
I recorded a video message for my sister -- called a Polo -- which was just a few seconds long. Marco Polo is intended for quick back-and-forth messages, not long-winded voicemails.
The video automatically saved into our chat. To watch videos you've already recorded, just tap on the small tile at the tile at the bottom. To delete one, hold down on the thumbnail until a menu pops up.
Like Snapchat or Instagram Stories, you can draw on and add text to your video. And by pressing on the screen with two fingers while recording, you can animate your illustrations (just try not to draw on your face like I did).
Marco Polo has six filters right now, including one that makes me look kind of like a Wall Street Journal reporter, and one that seemingly eliminates half my features altogether while simultaneously giving me a dewy glow.
Marco Polo's filters aren't very sophisticated yet and don't perform well in well-lit areas. Most of them blew out all my features except my eyes.
The app also encourages you to 'text when you can't talk.' This feature looks nearly identical to Snapchat except for one main difference: You can only send Polos as videos, not still photos.
Admittedly, the texting feature seems like somewhat of a useless feature, unless you plan to use Marco Polo as your main communication app.