Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger

Google Hangouts for Android just received SMS-integration, while Facebook Messenger for Android  just received a completely new user interface. As two of the best messaging apps out there, this just makes them even harder to choose between.

On the surface, they’re quite similar, but dig a bit deeper and you begin to see the major differences. To decide on a winner, I’ll be examining every facet of both apps from their visual appearances to their differentiating features. Let’s get started.

User Base

First off, to message anyone on Messenger or Hangouts, they have to be using that service (unless you’re sending an SMS through Hangouts). That means that no matter how amazing an app is, it’s useless if none of your friends use it.

Since Facebook already has a massive user base, and Google+ (which is tightly integrated with Hangouts) still struggles to gain steam, Facebook has a clear advantage here.

Winner: Facebook Messenger

User Interface

Hangouts has the typical modern card-styling given to all of Google’s apps. The first screen you arrive at is the slide-out menu from the left side which lists all of your messages. If you choose to use Hangouts as your SMS app, those conversations that are sent via SMS will be labeled as such.

Swiping away the slide-out menu will show you suggestions for who to Hangout with next. It’s an odd UI choice, since the main screen is really the slide-out menu, but it does mean that in any conversation you can just swipe back to the main screen from the left.

Normally, I love all the swiping, but it gets awkward here because to get back to your conversation, you have to swipe in the from the right, but if you don’t grab the edge just perfectly, you swipe one of your conversations away, accidentally archiving it. Whoops.

c Hangouts Main 11   Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger

Messenger works a bit differently; there are three tabs along the top: recent messages, contacts, and settings. A “new message” button stretches across the bottom on all three tabs. Friends who just have a Facebook account have a grey “f” by their picture, but those who have downloaded Messenger have the new blue Messenger logo by their name.

From the list screen, you can see if someone has seen your message already. A check means that they’ve seen it, a turning arrow means that you sent it but they haven’t seen it yet, and no icon means that they were the last one to send you a message.

c messenger home 31   Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger

While I love Google’s modern UI and having a unified experience across Android apps, Facebook’s UI is far simpler, and the bright blue color is a refreshing new look.

Winner: Facebook Messenger

Messaging Experience

Below, you can see a group message for MakeUseOf as well as some of the new emoticons. The slightly greyed out faces at the bottom show how far everyone in the conversation has seen. Up top is the video chat button which we will discuss more later.

c Google Conversation 11   Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger

Facebook went for a very iOS7-like design, sending your messages in bright blue and receiving messages in grey, with a white background for the conversation. On the top of the screen, you can see if the person is using Messenger or is just on Facebook. If they’re not on messenger, an Invite button will be present.

On the left, you see an example of messaging using the Chat Heads feature (incidentally, overtop the Hangouts app), whereas the right is what it looks like if you’re in the app. We’ll touch on Chat Heads more in a moment.

c Facebook Conversation 11   Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger

I prefer the look of Facebook’s messaging, and it’s useful to know whether or not someone is on Messenger or just Facebook. And having a “Seen at this time” in text feature on Messenger trumps Google’s way of displaying the person’s greyed out picture below the message, in my opinion. Additionally, Messenger looks cleaner without all the time stamps, but you can still long-press on any message to view its details, including time stamp and whether it was sent from the Web or an app.

Winner: Facebook Messenger

Video/Audio Calling

Here’s where things are a bit odd. Hangouts support video calling, but not regular audio calls, and Messenger supports audio calls over Wi-Fi but not video calls. Of course, with Hangouts, you could simply call someone and turn off your video.

Below, you can see the Messenger audio call screen on the left, prominently displaying my friend’s profile picture, and on the right, you can see Hangouts beginning a video call.

c Messenger Call Hangout Video 11   Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger

Google definitely takes the cake here by having video chat, although we’re still waiting around for the free calling via Google Voice that was given to iOS users. Free Facebook to Facebook Wi-Fi calling is cool, but why no video calling? It’s already supported through the Web interface and has been for a while.

Winner: Google Hangouts

Extra Features

Hangout’s biggest advantage is currently SMS integration, which the old Facebook Messenger had, but the new Messenger does not. That decision baffles me, but Android Beat reports that Facebook is testing new SMS-integration with a limited number of users, so if you’re one of the lucky ones to be running that version of Messenger, let us know.

But Hangout’s SMS integration is far from perfect. Even if you have one contact with a phone number and Google+ account, your SMS and Google+ conversations are split into two different threads, essentially defeating the purpose.

There is also the option to send your location via the pin button at the bottom, and animated GIFs are now supported as well.

c conversation chat head 1   Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger

Facebook’s Chat Heads are their stand out feature, shown above floating over the Google Maps application. This little bubble can stay on your screen, overlapping your home screen or any app. It’s small enough to stay out of the way and can be relocated or deleted with the flick of your finger.

c Messenger Home 21   Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger

Facebook’s differentiation between Messenger users and typical Facebook users makes it easy to tell who is able to respond quickly and who probably won’t see it for a while. Plus, the contacts tab shows you everyone who is online and whether they’re on mobile devices or the Web. You can even turn off your online status if you aren’t feeling particularly talkative.

Messenger also has a plethora of free stickers, which are much better than Hangout’s emoticons in my opinion, but whether you prefer stickers or emoticons is very subjective.

For being able to have more features while keeping it simple, this round goes to Messenger, despite Hangout’s SMS integration.

Winner: Facebook Messenger.

Conclusion And The Future

Facebook wins 4:1.

If Google could sort out their SMS-integration, revamp the UI to make it a bit simpler, and integrate Google Voice, it would take the cake. But if Facebook could add video-messaging and SMS-integration, it would be far and away the best choice for a messaging app.

In both cases, I think that Hangouts and Messenger need to take advantage of Android’s ability to handle actionable notifications for 4.1 and up. Imagine receiving a text message and being able to mark it as read, call the person, or reply by opening up a floating window, all from the notification panel; you wouldn’t have to leave your current app. This is possible right now, but has yet to be implemented by either party.

What do you think of Hangouts and Messenger? Do you have a different messaging app that trounces both of these? Let us know in the comments.

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21 Comments -

0 votes

Scott B

I disagree Hangout wins because video is what everybody wants.

0 votes

Kieran C

Everybody? Well, if you’re always making your calls from a wifi zone, or you live in a country with working 4G or where your network provider doesn’t butt-rape your bank account for using 3G data (where you can actually get it), and where all your friends/family also have smartphones, then maybe yeah. In other words, if you’re not where I’m from…. Besides, I know what my friends look like, why do I need to see their ugly mugs when I’m calling them to find out why the hell they’re running late to meet up this time?

0 votes

Decebal D

I agree that anybody wants that, but at this time the tech is way ahead of our time.

0 votes

Andrew

dude facebook sucks. i uninstalled it it takes up way too much battery. it wakelocks your phone more than any other app in the market its practically a virus. i like the chat heads better than hangouts but they need to fix their crap

0 votes

Justin P

Can I just add that the Hangouts interface on a tablet is much better? Your list of current conversation is at right, and you can jump between chats in a single tap. I seriously wish the desktop version of Hangouts worked just like it.

0 votes

jamie

I take hangouts over FB every time. Another hangouts feature I love is when someone calls my cell, hangouts on the desktop rings and I can answer via desktop headset.

0 votes

Phil N

Hangouts without question.

0 votes

Ninad

Plus hangout gives you video conferencing :)

0 votes

AnonGuy

Audio Calls are more important than Video Calling. People spend more time in voice chat than in Video. That’s why Facebook added that first, and rightfully so.

Google Removed it.

Video conferencing on Hangouts requires Google+. Most consumers do 1:1 Video Calls (i.e. FaceTime, Skype) than Group Video Calling so Group Video in Hangouts isn’t good enough (and nor is the video quality, which is TERRIBLE) to get them to drop Facebook Messenger for Hangouts and in the example you give, create and maintain a Google+ Profile (cause to use this easily you’d need to Set Up circles unless you want to have to add people one by one everytime you do a Group Video Call, etc.).

0 votes

Rick

Very biased review.

0 votes

Filip Galetic

What a mess! This morning Facebook android app didn’t even let me see my messages unless I downloaded the app. I said what the hell, let’s try it but immediately made my partner switch to Hangouts for chatting as I don’t like being forced to do anything. Hangouts proved bad exactly because my SMS and hangouts threads are separate even though it recognizes that these are in fact duplicate contacts. What is worse, Facebook app tried to hijack my SMS as well which made me uninstall it immediately. In the end I don’t know which app to use.

0 votes

ted kelly

Facebook for when you’re lying and hangouts when you’re being honest.

0 votes

kyith

i have both but in Asia we chat more than that and Hangout is not at all popular. I love Facebook Messenger. Probably the best messenger out there due to its ubiquity nature.

0 votes

Paul G

Chat heads is the reason I hate the FB messenger so much. I prefer Hangouts way over messenger.

0 votes

longfeng

Facebook is the best battery sucker. You fail to mention that.

I only need 1 killer reason to take facebook out of my Android.

0 votes

Michael A

In response to that last comment with “handle actionable notifications for 4.1 and up.”

Check out 8sms on play store.
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.thinkleft.eightyeightsms.mms&hl=en

You can mark read, call and reply right from the notifications panel.

0 votes

Doug Jensen

I like to use Trillian in addition to Messenger.

0 votes

Jakub Kruszynski

Also hangouts has chrome plugin that works very good!
but i do like the option to answer a message quick even when looking a video on youtube, on my phone facebook chatheads is that option but on my computer hangouts is better with the plugin

0 votes

Tom S

I love Google and all it’s products, but Facebook messenger looks more appealing.

0 votes

Decebal D

waiting for facebook integration on SMS, until then i have them both on my phone

0 votes

CSev

It’s barely been mentioned that facebook’s app is horribly slow (I’m on an S3 which is still a relatively high end device). Loading conversations, listing, updates, image sharing, all horribly slow. But the worst of all is the chat head performance. Sure, it’s fancy, but if it pops up your phone will be stuck on whatever you were really doing for seconds. Often causing issues in other apps and especially games.

Contrary to that, hangouts is at least as feature rich as messenger, but still operates as lightweight as for example whatsapp.

This article and it’s arguments are too biased. I for one love the simplicity of your messages on the left, swipe from right if you make a new one. That’s just opinion.