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Keeping in contact with people takes a lot of forms nowadays: text chat, video calling, and regular audio calling. There are a good number of fantastic messaging apps 5 Best Free Messaging Apps For Android 5 Best Free Messaging Apps For Android Need a free way to send messages to friends and family with your phone for free? Check out these apps. Read More for Android, SMS/MMS alternatives Text Better With These Alternative SMS Apps For Android Text Better With These Alternative SMS Apps For Android Don't like your default SMS app? Try a new one! Read More , video calling apps like Skype How To Use Skype On Android For Beginners How To Use Skype On Android For Beginners Want to learn how to use Skype on your Android device for voice and video calls? Look no further. Read More , and even alternative Dialer apps What Is the Best Contacts & Dialer App for Android? What Is the Best Contacts & Dialer App for Android? You don't have to settle for your phone's built-in contacts and dialer apps. Read More  – but what if there was one app that could take the place of all of those?

Meet Google Hangouts for Android. Send SMS and MMS messages, send Hangouts-to-Hangouts messages for free, make Hangouts-to-Hangouts video calls for free, and with the magic of integrated Google Voice support, you can even make phone calls to anyone in the US for free (though you’ll need an American number to set up your Google Voice number).

Hangouts is also available on iOS and Chrome, but we’ll be focusing on the Android version here. First, let’s dive into the interface and overall usability before looking at specific features and advanced settings.

User Interface

Hangouts on Android is decked out in its signature green, though it hasn’t yet gotten the full Material Design Exploring Android L: What Exactly Is Material Design? Exploring Android L: What Exactly Is Material Design? You may have heard about Android L and Material Design, but what exactly is this new design philosophy and how will it affect Android and other Google products? Read More makeover. It has three tabs along the top: contacts, messages, and dialer (once you download the free Dialer add-on, which you should).

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Swiping in from the left edge will bring out the menu where you can switch between accounts and adjust other settings, which we’ll go into detail about later. In general, navigating through the app is simple and should be what you’re used to if you’ve been using a lot of Google’s apps.

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The messaging list will include messages to your carrier number, Google Voice number, and Hangouts account. You can even see above that it includes Google Voice voicemails, allowing you to have everything in one inbox.

The dialer app can replace your default dialer if you’re comfortable using Google Voice, which requires you to be based in the US. For those outside the US or without a Google Voice number, it still seems to allow you to make calls to the US and Canada, but doesn’t give you a number to receive them.

Text Messages

This is the part of the app where Google can take the place of both your preferred messaging app, and your SMS/MMS app. You can send Hangouts-to-Hangouts messages for free over WiFi or cellular, much like you can with Whatsapp, Line, or Facebook Messenger.

The difference here is that your SMS and MMS messages are also integrated. Hangouts messages are shown in green, while SMS appear in white. If the person you’re texting has both Hangouts and a carrier number, you can choose which to send your message to.

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It operates a lot like the iPhone’s iMessage system, if you have any familiarity with that. For iPhone users, you can send iMessage to iMessage texts for free over WiFi or 3G/4G, but if the other person doesn’t have an iPhone, you can simply SMS them. This is like Google’s version of that.

It’s also stocked full of the usual features: emoji, attachments, group messaging, etc. If you’re messaging their carrier number, there’s the option to initiate a phone call at the top, and if you’re messaging them on Hangouts, there’s the option to make a video call (like Apple’s FaceTime feature).

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To change whether you send your text messages from your Google Voice or carrier number, you’ll need to head into the Settings, select SMS, and select Send SMS from. You can either always reply from one number or set it to automatically reply with the last number you used. The annoying bit here is that you have to travel this deep into the settings to change it.

Video Calls

Finally we have reached a stage where Hangouts can replace Skype on your phone. If another user has Hangouts on their Android device, iPhone, iPad, or computer, you can video call them by tapping the video button in the top right.

If it doesn’t appear, make sure you’re messaging their Hangouts account, and not their SMS account (check the lower left corner next to the text entry field).

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The video calling interface is minimal but gets the job done. Buttons along the bottom allow you to mute your microphone, toggle video, toggle audio between speaker and earpiece, choose if you want to use the front or rear camera, and hang up.

On the desktop, you get a bunch of fun extensions to work with, but those are missing from the Android version.

Audio Calls

Back when we compared Hangouts and Facebook Messenger Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger Android Messaging App Faceoff: Google Hangouts Vs. Facebook Messenger On the surface, they're quite similar, but dig a bit deeper and you begin to see the major differences. Read More , audio calling was one of the major features that Hangouts was missing. That problem no longer exists, making it the king of the messaging battleground.

You can either dial from the dialer tab in the main app, or tap the Call icon in a message thread, as shown below. These calls are made with your data connection, so you might want to be connected to Wi-Fi before spending three hours catching up with your best friend. The good news, however, is that it won’t use up the minutes on your cellular plan.

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Calls in all of our tests have been crisp, and clear. The interface is a little different to the standard video interface, as you can see above. Conference calling is also available, and a number pad is available for you to either dial a number or enter data that a robotic voice on the other end is asking you for.

Settings

If you venture into the slide-out menu on the left side and tap Settings, you’ll wind up in the menu shown below and to the left. From here, you can adjust settings for your individual Google accounts or SMS settings.

Inside each account, you can set your profile photo, your status/mood, edit how you receive notifications, and tinker with your Google Voice integration.

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Under SMS settings you can choose which account you want SMS and MMS messages to be integrated with. It also lets you change the notifications for those kinds of messages or disable them completely if you prefer to use a different SMS app.

Download

Grab both Hangouts and Hangouts Dialer (the add-on for audio calls) from the Play Store for free.

What Are Your Favorite Messaging Apps?

Hangouts is great for its ability to house all of your kinds of communication, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. What do you use for text messages, video calls, and audio calls?

Let us know in the comments! Let’s help the MakeUseOf community get the most out of their Android devices.

  1. Ruby
    July 11, 2016 at 10:51 am

    In addition to google hangouts, you may also have a look at R-HUB web conferencing servers android app for all your online conferencing needs. It can be freely downloaded from Google play store.

  2. Ron Craig
    August 26, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Everyone who said this app is useless is being nice about it. This is the crappiest app I have ever seen. And I've been in the IT field since 1996 !!! I am the owner of an IT firm from 1996 to the present in the Seattle area.

    Hangouts crashes literally ALL the time! I keep thinking maybe the next update will solve it, but it gets worse with each update. The last update drove me to my cell phone to make calls. What is worse is there are no reasons given for the crashes. I file the reports hoping it will help, but I am afraid they have a completely moronic programming team.

    It is a great idea for an app but horrendously executed!!! Run as fast and far away from this piece of excrement as you can. And the author of this article must have been paid by Google to write the article. It does not give any indication of the nightmares using this app will bring your formerly peaceful sleep!

    • Steve G (Linux)
      October 21, 2015 at 7:41 am

      That's interesting.. I use it all day every single day since the 1st day it was available and I've yet to see it crash once. I will happily stand up in court and state under oath that I have never seen it crash before and nobody uses Hangouts more than I do. I literally live inside it and it is my main way of communicating.

      I wasn't happy about the layout changes in the recent versions and showed show via Play store comments telling people to put pressure on Google to undo these changes as they are hideous. I simply removed the update and unchecked auto updates which is super simple to do and I'm still using the super cool version like the one in this article.

      Maybe you are running some kind of auto app process cleaner in the background that is taking down something Hangouts depends on..

  3. xenia
    May 23, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Here is MY big problem.. I installed hangouts and not only does it totally disable ALL SMS notifications for my stock messaging app on my Android but I get no notifications for anything for hangouts since I checked the merge SMS function,. No vibrate, popup, ringtone notification, nothing.. So this renders the app useless for me. I've uninstalled and reinstalled, changed all fo the settings to every variable to no avail. I had to go back to the old Google Voice interface which is not great and I miss the flexibility I thought I had with hangouts (:

  4. Randy
    April 22, 2015 at 1:08 am

    I use google hangouts to send mms (Pictures, video ect) without having to turn my mobile data on...(on wifi only) and it works perfectly.. the only drawback, it that in order to send it to anyone.. they must have google hangouts installed as well... which kinda sucks. I have been looking for a messanger that does not require the other person to have it installed and it MUST have mms over wifi ( send and recieve).. without using my data plan.

  5. khan sahab
    April 7, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    is there another app like VOXOX..
    coz its free and by this we can chane the no.
    Is there any another app like this...........?

  6. Marc Andrews
    April 2, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Someone blocked me on Gchat/Hangouts, and he uses Hangouts for his SMS/MMS (no other SMS/MMS app on his phone). I thought that meant if I texted him it wouldn't be delivered. But he texted me, I replied, and he said he got my reply. Does anyone know if blocking me in Hangouts still allows me to text normally? Thanks!

  7. marly
    March 4, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    i have an alcatel android....i can't seem to forward texts when im in "Hang-outs"???

  8. John
    February 6, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    I have used GV for years. I forward my GV line I use in my business Google Apps account to SendHub and it works okay, good actually. Of course it has a monthly fee.

    I have tried every configuration to RECEIVE calls in the settings. I followed everything I can in this regard. I cannot make it happen. I have Verizon on a Galaxy S5. I want to answer within an app, as I use the GV line as a business line that is answered differently.

    Is anyone else having any trouble receiving calls on the Android Apps? I have installed both Google Hangout Dialer and Hangout.

  9. Bryan S.
    December 24, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    I've recently converted to the Hangouts app and love it for the most part. I would like to see a bit more customization, but it's pretty good the way it is. Regarding the Google Voice comment above, as it relates to not being able to receive calls, there is a simple way. I obtained a Google Voice number years ago and was able to select the Area code, so the number is local. I did this so I could use GV for voice mail handling. Now, I list my GV number as my office number. When my mobile is on, calls forward to my Verizon carrier number. When on WiFi only, I change the setting in the Hangouts app to ring incoming calls. This option worked great while I was on a cruise ship with an unlimited WiFi plan.

    • Justin Dennis
      February 17, 2015 at 10:51 pm

      interesting thanks for your feedback!

  10. Andy Johnson
    December 17, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    I refuse to signup for Google+, since this is worthless. Can't send pics, etc. Lame.

  11. DonGateley
    December 17, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    MakeUseOf nails it yet again. Thanks, Justin.

    Now, if you's also add comment and reply notification like everyone else the site would be damn near perfect. I often find myself posting questions about an article before remembering that it is an exercise in futility.

    • Justin Dennis
      February 17, 2015 at 10:51 pm

      hey DonGateley, sorry about my poor replying practices. I'm trying to improve on that. :) leave some comments on any upcoming articles and I'll do my best to reply.

      Cheers!

  12. Paul Werner
    December 16, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    Best one out there IMO. Good write up

    • Justin Dennis
      February 17, 2015 at 10:50 pm

      thanks, mate! :D

  13. mekatronik
    December 16, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    better than whatsapp.I like it.

    • Justin Dennis
      February 17, 2015 at 10:50 pm

      awesome! happy for you :)

  14. likefunbutnot
    December 16, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Hangouts? The less functional replacement for Google Talk? I remember when I could send images in Android Gchat and it would work. Now my images are not delivered, apparently because I don't have a Google+ account.

    I do have Google Voice on Sprint, but since I think SMS messaging is a poor substitute for email or even actually-functional instant messaging, the utility I've found is using it as an SMS to email gateway so that I'm not tied to my phone for the few people I know who insist on texting.

    As with a lot of things, messaging is a lot worse right now than it was fine years ago. I have acquaintances now who ONLY want to communicate via Facebook or insist on using SMS. Messaging is fragmented into Google/Apple/Facebook ghettos and Google forcing into its ecosystem to achieve what used to be a normal level of functionality does not help.

    • Justin Dennis
      February 17, 2015 at 10:49 pm

      yeah there's certainly a lot of fragmentation out there in terms of messaging. hopefully we're moving towards more universal platforms in the future, though.

  15. ralb
    December 16, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    If it's so good, why then there's no option to ignore accents (like: á, à, ç, etc.) present in many languages other than English? Without that option, seen in other third party apps, I don't use it. Or else, it goes as MMS, and for that I've to pay more to the mobile operator, any in my country; or I've to "correct" word by word when there's accents.

    • Justin Dennis
      February 17, 2015 at 10:49 pm

      weird, sorry, hopefully they get a fix for this in the future

  16. Sean
    December 16, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Except, if you're a Sprint user and are using your Sprint number as your Google Voice number, Google has advised that you not use Hangouts as your SMS tool - there's a bug that results in multiple copies of your messages spamming the recipients. And no word on when (or even if) it will be fixed.

    • Justin Dennis
      February 17, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      yikes, good to know, thanks for the info!

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