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An honest rant about Squad, the app you didn’t know you didn’t need

A screenshot of a Squad call I forced my friends Emmerie (top left) and Rachel to have with me.
(Sara Butler)

I tried out the video chat application so you don’t have to; you’re welcome

Have you heard of Squad? I’m gonna take a wild guess and assume not.

I hadn’t either, until I started researching for a different article about video chat apps. Though Squad didn’t make the list, I decided to try it out anyway.

I shouldn’t have.

Since you need two (or three) to tango when it comes to video calls, I forced two of my best friends -- Emmerie and Rachel -- to try it out with me. (The title of our group chat is “OG Squad,” so it seemed fitting.) And boy, none of us will never forget the experience... unfortunately.

So what exactly is Squad? Basically, everything. In the worst way. Fundamentally, yes, it is a video chat app, but the sheer number of bells and whistles make you forget that.

Alright, here’s a visual. Imagine a regular video call. The faces of your friends -- I am purposely excluding family members and colleagues from this narrative, who you should NOT attempt using this app with -- share the screen. Standard, right?

Next, look below. There’s a tool bar at the bottom of the app. OK, still standard. Now scroll through the options. Common features like muting your microphone and video, or sharing your screen, are replaced with unexpected alternatives. Like searching and broadcasting YouTube and TikTok videos, and even streaming full-length movies. Huh?

Alright, in theory, maybe this sounds cool... everything all in one place, right? Instead of explaining a YouTube video you recently watched, you can just play it for the crowd. Or if you’re getting lonely scrolling through TikTok solo, having your friends watch along with you could be nice. Ditto with the movie feature -- maybe it’s like the Netflix Party Chrome extension?

Maybe. But all and all, it was TOO MUCH. Just... chaos.

Unwelcomed faces on our screen during the video chat, courtesy of TikTok.
(Sara Butler)

After saying our hellos, Emmerie pulled up TikTok. Without warning, the screen swapped our faces with those of strangers, a continual loop of short, viral videos.

A couple TikToks in, I accidentally pressed another button and interrupted the TikToks with a random beauty guru video from YouTube. Everyone was disoriented and confused with the sudden audio and visual changes. I could sense my friends growing irritable.

Then I searched though the movies, but it was hard to find something we could all agree on. When I finally pulled one up (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), we couldn’t even make it through the opening credits. None of us could imagine watching a feature film on a third of an iPhone screen.

The TikTok stream was placed in the center of the screen, while YouTube videos played above our faces. Either way... annoying.
(Sara Butler)

If you’ve used Zoom (I’m assuming you have, considering it has now become a verb in today’s coronavirus vocabulary), you’re likely familiar with the cool visual backgrounds and filters you can add. Squad, too, has a creative option.

What is it, you ask? Well, you can abruptly switch your video to a jarring, neon-colored animation of yourself, facial recognition and all. When I toggled the option, both of my friends screamed. Yes, literally screamed.

Our Squad call lasted no more than 10 minutes. My friends begged me to end it, so we finally switched to FaceTime for the remainder of our hour-long catch-up.

Here's that terrifying animation of myself I was talking about. Note the expressions of my friends.
(Sara Butler)

Rachel summed Squad up with: “This app is meant for Gen Z-ers.” (The three of us are millennials.) And as Emmerie bluntly put it, “This app is f****** stupid.” (At the end of the call, Emmerie even responded to the auto-generated “How can we make Squad better?” message with “Delete it.”)

But the story does not end there, folks. I wish it did.

Introducing: Party Line. Every day at 4 p.m. Squad users will receive a push notification that says “Hey it’s time for party line.” Huh?

Proof of the daily push-notification, which hits my phone every day 4 p.m.
(Sara Butler)

When you open the app, there is a neon pink “Join Call” button near the bottom of the screen. Click it and you will be bombarded with a list of large neon blocks. (Apparently these app creators are obsessed with neon?) It looks like some weird scheduling app, like Google Calendar.

Turns out these blocks are “rooms” which users can create, name and invite people to. Basically, they’re modern chat rooms. The number of live participants in each room shows up on the bottom right corner of each block. Most had only one to two people, but some had up to six or seven.

Here's what the Party Line landing page looks like, with neon colored boxes representing individual rooms. For privacy reasons, I won't be sharing screenshots of the inside of each room.
(Sara Butler)

Click on one of the rooms and you’ll be taken into a real room -- usually a front-facing video of someone in their house. Most likely under the age of 16. Instantly, I knew I didn’t belong here.

The creator is the host slash moderator, who is on camera (or audio) and usually leads the conversation. Anyone can join any room, but every creator/host/moderator can kick people out if they’re being inappropriate or rude.

As a participant, your entrance is announced via a text notification to the group displaying your username. You initially join without video or audio, but can send messages via a chat feature scrolling in the bottom left corner.

Here's what the screen looks like if you decide to create your own room. I decided not to.
(Sara Butler)

If you request to become a “full participant” and are accepted, you join via camera and audio. “Full participant” also grants you other features, which are similar to the tool bar in regular Squad calls, like sharing TikTok and YouTube videos.

As much as I wanted to leave, I made myself participate (mostly passively) for an hour. As I entered and exited rooms, I watched a high school junior attempt to cook something (never figured out what it was), watched two One Direction music videos, and messaged with a self-described VSCO girl about our *aesthetics.* I also witnessed a lot of verbal and written insults and name calling.

As soon as 5 p.m. hit, I exited out of the app so fast. Again, it was ... TOO. MUCH. CHAOS. Definitely meant for Gen-Zers, and really f***** stupid.

My friend Emmerie sharing her opinion about the app to the automatic bot after our Squad call.
(Sara Butler)

TL;DR: If you are not a Gen-Zer, I do not recommend this app. However, if you’re losing your mind during quarantine, this could distract you from all the way-more-horrific things happening in the world, and maybe even kill a few hours of boredom. But it could also destroy your sanity.

Download Squad at your own risk.


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