What Is Google Hangouts?

A Look at Google Hangouts and Its Features

Illustration of a messaging app

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Google Hangouts is a communication platform from Google. With it, you can not only send messages to other users online but also make video calls, phone calls, and send texts to real phones.

This service is a combination of other Google services, of which have now been replaced by Google Hangouts. For example, Google+ Messenger, Google Talk, Hangouts, and even parts of Google Voice are integrated into this one platform.

You can start a conversation with someone using their phone number or email address, as well as their name if they're already in your contact list. Calls made from Google Hangouts to real phones use Google Voice and might therefore require calling credit, which you can buy directly from Google.

Google Hangouts Features

Screenshot of Google Hangouts

In its basic form, Google Hangouts is a text messaging platform. Open a contact and you can start texting them immediately. Messages go directly to their Google Hangouts account where they can respond.

From the chat window is a button for inserting Emoji and images from your computer or Google account. You can also easily send videos using the built-in video search function, as well as sketches with the drawing tool.

To make a phone call, use the appropriate button in the chat window to switch over to calling. You can start video messages or audio-only calls from Google Hangouts. Doing this requires the Hangouts plugin.

Something else you can do is send a text message to the person. It functions much like the SMS feature on your phone but works from your computer.

Google Hangouts can also be used from a computer at the Google Hangouts website. Because it's browser-based, it's no problem to invite other Google users to a chat or call. You can even add other participants during a current text chat or video/audio call.

You can also use Google Hangouts from a mobile device. iPad and iPhone users can use Hangouts from the App Store, and Android devices can install Hangouts through Google Play. If you're just interested in making calls, you can get the Hangouts Dialer app for Android.

Here are some other Google Hangouts features:

  • Voicemails from Google Voice are stored in your account
  • Text conversations can contain up to 250 people
  • 25 people can be in one video chat together
  • During a call through the desktop version of Google Hangouts, texts can be exchanged off to the side so that the video stays on top
  • From the mobile app, you can minimize a call so that it's still visible on the screen, but also send text messages
  • On both the mobile and desktop version, the mic and/or camera can be disabled at any time during the call without it ending the session
  • If you're struggling to experience a smooth Google Hangouts video call from a computer, you can adjust the outgoing and/or incoming video bandwidth. You can also force only incoming audio, regardless of whether the participant(s) are showing video
  • A link to a Google Hangouts call can be shared with anyone you want to add to the call (they have to have a Google account)
  •  You can make audio-only calls to other Google Hangouts users by starting a video call first and then disabling the video portion
  • The Google Hangouts app can send the user's current location
  • Conversations can be favorited through the mobile app so that they're listed first in the conversations list

Should You Get It?

Google Hangouts is a great way to make free phone calls using the internet. Both video and audio calls. It's also very easy to use for text messaging other users or even phone numbers.

Most people have a Google account (think Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, etc), so it makes it very likely that you can chat with friends, family, coworkers, or anyone else without having to convince them to open a brand new user account. All they have to do is be logged in to their Google account.

However, while there are some nice features about Google Hangouts, it doesn't support some things that other messaging services support. For example, Skype lets you share your screen with others while also messaging over video and text.

Another downfall is that Google Hangouts isn't as well known as Skype other messaging services like Facebook Messenger and Snapchat. While lots of people have a Google account and could very well use Google Hangouts with little to no setup, it's easier to find users on other platforms that have a larger user base.