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Google Hangouts is doing well, in spite of its slow start and continued jostle with the likes of Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook’s Messenger. It even has a nice web app Google Finally Made a Hangouts Web App & It's Worth It Google Finally Made a Hangouts Web App & It's Worth It For the longest time, Hangouts on desktop was a nightmare. Now, it has got a major update on the web in the form of an all new dedicated web app. Read More now.

What’s more interesting is that it has several useful hidden features that promise to make chatting and video calling smoother and more fun for you. We’ll show you what you can do with them.

Note: Depending on the Google+ version that you’re using, some features might appear in different locations than those listed here.

Add Hats and Mustaches

Let’s begin with how you can have a costume party 8 Stunning Cyberpunk Costume Ideas with LEDs 8 Stunning Cyberpunk Costume Ideas with LEDs Combining cyberpunk culture, clothing, and LEDs might sound a bit radical, but people out there, right now, are creating clothing and accessories that will blow your mind. Read More online. What could be more important than that?

To begin, you’ll need to install the Google Effects extension for Hangouts, which you can do only if you have a Google+ profile. Assuming you have one, when you start (or join) a video call, you’ll see a “more” icon (three horizontal dots) to the left in the call window. Hover over it and click on the Add apps button that appears.

add-hangouts-apps

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In the grid of apps that comes up, look for Google Effects and click on its Install Hangouts extension button. (Come back to this section later to install other interesting apps.)

Once the Effects extension gets installed, you’ll see an icon for it on the left and a new Effects panel on the right. That panel is where all the fun begins. It has a selection of headwear, backgrounds, eyewear, etc. that you can overlay on your face in the call window. Don’t let the limited selection of effects disappoint you. It’s a chance to get creative 8 TED Talks That Will Help Unlock Your Creative Potential 8 TED Talks That Will Help Unlock Your Creative Potential Practical advice for being creative is rare and hard to find, but it's out there if you know where to look. Here are our picks for the best TED Talks on being a creative. Read More !

dog-pirate

Make the Most of a Slow Internet Connection

Don’t have enough bandwidth to spare for a high-quality video call? You might want to take advantage of Google’s bandwidth restriction feature. Look for the “signal” icon (four vertical lines of increasing height) at the top in a call window and click on it.

You’ll then see a slider that allows you to lower the bandwidth setting or rather the call quality from its default mode (Auto HD) all the way down to Audio Only. The latter is best for super slow connections, and also for pretending to be an attentive listener when you’re really looking at funny cat Tumblrs The Funniest Cat Tumblrs For Feline Fanatics [Weird & Wonderful Web] The Funniest Cat Tumblrs For Feline Fanatics [Weird & Wonderful Web] Cats now own the Internet. And if you want to survive the upcoming catastrophe, you'd best be friends with the feline frenemies. Read More  on the side.

hangouts-adjust-bandwidth

If you’re on a newer version of Google+, you’ll find the bandwidth setting in a different location. To bring it up, first click on the “gear” icon toward the top right in the call window, and in the popup box that appears, switch to the Bandwidth tab. If you’d like to get back the older interface described above, click on the “more” icon (three vertical dots) at the top right and select Original version from the fly-out menu that appears.

Let Google Bots Translate Conversations for You

If you want a quick translation in the midst of a Hangouts conversation, you have a slew of Google’s minions at your service. They’re called translation bots or chat bots. They’ll come in handy if you want to, say, get online tutoring to learn a new language How To Learn A Language Using The Kindle Paperwhite How To Learn A Language Using The Kindle Paperwhite With the built-in dictionary and Vocabulary Builder on your Paperwhite, reading in another language is as convenient as it will ever be. Read More , or connect with an international fan base Get More Out Of Google+ Hangouts With These 5 Creative Ideas Get More Out Of Google+ Hangouts With These 5 Creative Ideas Google+ Hangouts are a pretty cool tool - one which we've put to good use here at MakeUseOf. Whether it's to hold editorial meetings or to host our own Podcast, Technophilia, we're big fans of... Read More as an artist.

Depending on the languages that you want to translate back and forth from, you’ll need to add specific bots to group conversations. The names of these bots follow a certain pattern: [from language]2[to language]@bot.talk.google.com.

So if you want a translation from French to English, you’ll have to add the bot fr2en@bot.talk.google.com by clicking on the icon next to the “video call” icon. Once you do that, the bot takes care of translating your chats from French to English automatically.

hangouts-add-chat-bot

For English to French translation, you’ll have to add en2fr@bot.talk.google.com. Here’s a list of all the translation bots that are available to you. You can also add a bot to your contact list and send it the text you want translated.

The translation feature did not work for me at all, most likely because it isn’t available in India yet. Give it a shot and tell us how it worked out for you.

Say It Better with Formatting

If you need to highlight a word or a phrase in the middle of your Hangouts conversation, feel free to use the formatting shortcuts that you use in other apps: Ctrl + B for emphasizing text, Ctrl + I for italicizing text, and Ctrl + U for underlining text. They work just fine. If you’re a macOS user, be sure to replace the Ctrl key with the Command key in these shortcuts.

Talk in Doodles

If you’d rather chat using hand-drawn smiley faces and weird doodles instead of plain old text, here’s what you can do. First hover over the square Attach a photo icon at the bottom right in a chat window. Next, click on the tiny “pencil” icon that appears right next to it.

You’ll now see a blank square box with a set of brush and color options at the top. That’s your canvas for doodlespeak in Hangouts. You can draw stuff there and send it, and the recipient can edit your doodle or respond with a fresh one. Each edit appears as a new image recorded in your conversation.

hangouts-draw

Tip: If you want to draw a straight line, hold down the Shift key when you’re drawing.

Take Convos off the Record

By default, Google saves all your chat conversations and you can reread them anytime. They also end up under the Chats label in your Gmail. You can tell Google to stop saving your chat history for specific conversations, both individual and group based.

To go off the record for a particular conversation, first open its chat window and click on the Options button — it’s the “gear” icon right beneath the chat window’s Close button. Now uncheck the box corresponding to Hangout history and click on the Ok button.

hangouts-turn-off-history

Going forward, any messages you add to that conversation stay in the chat window for a short period of time, and they might disappear before the recipient(s) checks them. For example, if they’re offline at the time.

You can go back to the Options section anytime and select the Hangout history checkbox to start saving your chat again.

Note that your messages may still get recorded if the person at the other end of the conversation uses a chat client that does not support/honor off-the-record conversations. Google says so.

Hire a Gatekeeper to Screen Who Can Contact You

If you get inane/irrelevant messages from random people, you don’t have to sit and fume over them. Just tweak the settings for invites and let only select people contact you. You’ll find those settings under More > Settings > Customize invite settings. There, select the radio button next to Customized.

Now, if you don’t have a Google+ account, you have just three dropdown menus to deal with. One for the people who have your phone number, one for those who have your email address, and the third for everyone else.

For the first two types of people, you can choose if they can contact you directly or can just send an invite (which will need your acceptance, of course). You can keep out anyone who doesn’t belong to either of these two categories by selecting the Can’t send invites option from the Everyone else dropdown menu.

hangouts-customize-invites

If you do have a Google+ account, you get finer control over who can and can’t contact you based on your Circles. In this case, you’ll want to go through each of the dropdown menus one by one. That’s because by default, anybody in any of your circles can contact you directly even if the Everyone else option we mentioned above is set to Can’t send invites.

hangouts-circles-invite-settings

Give Orders from the Keyboard with Chat Commands

If you prefer keystrokes over mouse clicks, you’ll want to memorize Hangouts chat commands that will let you do things like:

  • Mute (unmute) the audio of the caller – /mute (/unmute)
  • Send inline private messages – /to [user][message]
  • Speak in third person – /me [message]

Want to see what else you can do with chat commands? Bring up the entire list of commands by typing in /help or /? (followed by pressing Enter) in the chat window when you’re in a call. To bring up the chat window, click on the blue “talk” icon at the top left.

hangouts-chat-commands

Call Phones

Sandwiched between the circular Video Call and Message buttons on your Hangouts homepage is the Phone Call button. It allows you to place calls to phones across the world, with one major caveat thrown in — calling is available in select locations. As a user from India, I can make calls to all countries, but not to locations within India.

When you click on the Phone Call button, Google brings up a search box where you can type in a phone number or the name of one of your contacts to call them. If you’re placing an international call, click on the tiny flag icon to the left of the search box to pick the right country code.

hangouts-phone-call

Let’s talk calling rates now. If Hangouts calling is available in your country, you can call almost all numbers in the US and Canada for free. If you have a Google Voice account, you can even receive calls via Hangouts.

Calling specific phone numbers will incur charges. You can look these up beforehand from the calling credit page for your Google account and add credit for them if necessary.

Unable to make a call? Can’t see the Phone Call feature at all? This Hangouts Help page can tell you what’s wrong.

Have Some Animated Fun

Want to see a bunch of ponies run across the active chat window? Type in /ponystream and hit Enter. And there they are. To make them disappear, type in /ponystream again. That’s not the only animation Hangouts is hiding beneath the hood. Try these words to bring up more animations: /ponies, /shydino, /pitchforks.

hangouts-ponystream

There’s also /bikeshed, if you want to change the background of the chat window to a different color. Ended up with a background the color of puke? Keep typing in /bikeshed till you get a color you like, or reopen the chat window to switch to the default, pale gray background. You might also want to type these text emoji and see what turns up: V.v.V, :(:), :( ), ~@~.

If you’re lucky, typing in happy birthday!!! should also work, and woohoo!!, woot!!!, and yay!!! as well. The trick is to add at least a couple of exclamation points at the end of those trigger words. These animations Check Out These Animated Easter Eggs Hidden in Google Hangouts Check Out These Animated Easter Eggs Hidden in Google Hangouts Google Hangouts has a number of animated Easter eggs that you might enjoy. Read More have stopped working on my computer though.

What Has Your Hangouts Experience Been Like?

If all you do on Google Hangouts is join calls or leave them, it’s time to you explored the non-vanilla side of Hangouts 15 Creative Ways to Get The Most Out of Google Hangouts 15 Creative Ways to Get The Most Out of Google Hangouts These creative ideas for Google Hangouts can be used to enrich your life in all spheres – whether you're working, relaxing, communicating with family, or trying to pick up a new skill. Read More !

What do you use Google Hangouts for? Which of its many secrets do you think are worth knowing? We’d love to hear how you use Hangouts.

Image Credits:Ready to connect by Everett Collection via Shutterstock

  1. Yannick Olivier Orounla
    July 23, 2016 at 8:54 am

    Your title would have been"tips and tricks for hangouts on desktop"

  2. Praveen Khunte
    July 13, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    I use only hangouts on my android, nothing else. The sync feature, superfast connectivity, able to talk on low bandwidth, make audio/video call and above all, I am least worried of my messages getting deleted in case something wrong happens to my phone. I am using it for more than 8 years (google talk at that time) and still it is second to none.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      July 14, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      That's great to hear, Praveen!

  3. Arthur Morehead
    July 13, 2016 at 5:24 am

    I like the Hangouts On Air I just wish they were not so confusing to set up It really is annoying that you must use an encoder too

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      July 14, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      Yeah, some Hangouts features aren't easy to figure out, Arthur. There's some inevitable trial and error involved...

  4. Jt
    July 13, 2016 at 1:23 am

    I like Hangouts. I don't know why more people don't use it.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      July 14, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      That is a little baffling. They use Google tools for everything else :)

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