Tango, a free video call and chat service, has updated its mobile phone apps with a host of new features, including artistic filters and fully animated avatars.

The app, available for Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices, grabbed our attention a couple of years ago when it walked onto the scene boasting high quality video calls on 3G and Wi-Fi connections. It was attractive because FaceTime, which Apple was pushing hard for its iOS devices, couldn’t be used over 3G at the time.

Since then though, FaceTime has moved onto 3G networks and both now support 4G connectivity too. In a bid to stay unique and competitive though, Tango has repositioned itself as a social network, offering in-app games, photo sharing and even eCards.

The new features, which will be rolled out today for iOS and Android users, include read receipts. These work in a similar fashion to the read receipts sent with email, allowing the user to see exactly when the recipient has read a text message, looked at a photograph or watched a video that you’ve sent them.

Filters, meanwhile, introduce the colour casts and vintage camera effects made popular by Instagram over to your video calls. There are four to choose from; Vintage, Holga, Mafic or Comic, although we expect that more will be added at a later date.

If you want a video call to be only one way, or just fancy having some fun with the app, Tango has also added avatars to take your place on screen. So far “Bill the Dog” and “Minx the Cat” are available – perhaps not the most imaginative creations – but what’s neat is that they’ll move and open their mouth in real time as you speak.

The final new addition is a fresh game to play. Checkers is a classic board game, as old as time itself, but now you can play it competitively with friends, family and colleagues over a smartphone or tablet.

When some of these new features will hit the Windows Phone app is unclear. However, Uri Raz, CEO of Tango, said:

“We want Tango to put a smile on people’s faces when they connect with those they care about. People really are looking for better ways to express their emotions and creativity regardless of the mode of communication they choose. With avatars, games, fun animations and more – we’re giving them the tools to do that.”

Tango was founded in 2009 and has raised more than $85 million in funding to date. Based in Palo Alto, California, the app is free on all compatible devices, including Windows PC.

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