On May 22, 2017, Google Hangouts will lose carrier-based SMS (text messaging) integration. If you currently use Hangouts as your default SMS app, that means you also need a Hangouts replacement.
But the best replacement app depends on your needs.
Why People Used Hangouts
For a while, Hangouts seemed poised to be the iMessage of Android. Hangouts came as the default SMS app on some devices, and others voluntarily made it their texting app. Unfortunately, it just never caught on.
Now, with Hangouts moving towards the corporate scene and away from the consumer side of things, Google has decided to remove the SMS integration. That means no more sending or receiving texts (from your carrier-supplied number) using the Hangouts app.
If you connected Hangouts with Google Voice and use that integration to get free outgoing and incoming SMS messages from your Voice number, you’re in luck. That feature isn’t being killed… yet. But with the revitalization of the Google Voice app, its death might be on the horizon, so why not jump ship early?
For one reason or another, it’s probably best for most folks currently using Hangouts to make to other apps.
Backing Up Hangouts Data
Before you start using another service, you should back up your Hangouts data. Hangouts isn’t getting killed off, but you may want to backup your data anyway if you’re planning to leave the service behind. Thankfully, it’s dead-simple.
If you use Hangouts for SMS, this has to be done in two parts.
Part 1: Hangouts-to-Hangouts Messages
Simply navigate to Google Takeout (preferably on a desktop/laptop). Deselect all of the services that you don’t want to back up. Then choose Done from the bottom left of the screen.
On the next screen, the defaults should work for almost anyone. Choose Create archive to backup your data. If you use Hangouts for SMS messaging, this will only save your Hangouts-to-Hangouts message, but not your SMS messages.
Google stores Hangouts chats as JSON data. On the downside, I am not aware of any chat app that can currently important this data.
Part 2: SMS Messages
To back up all of your SMS messages, we recommend using SMS Backup & Restore. If you’ve been using Hangouts as your default SMS app, this will save all your SMS messages, but none of your Hangouts-to-Hangouts messages.
You can then restore your SMS messages to whichever app you decide to migrate over to.
Website — Google Takeout
Download — SMS Backup & Restore
If You Need an SMS Replacement App
If you used Hangouts as an SMS app, you can replace that function with the stock Android SMS app: Android Messages. Android Messages offers a drop-in replacement for Hangouts. For most newer devices, the app comes pre-installed. On older Android devices, you can simply install it from the Play Store.
However, if the stock app isn’t what you crave, Facebook Messenger offers a compelling alternative. Not only does it centralize your SMS conversations, it also aggregates Facebook chats.
There are also a ton of other replacement SMS options for you in the Play Store, ranging from the simple to the feature-packed.
Download — Android Messages (Free)
Download — Facebook Messenger (Free)
If You Want Free Wi-Fi Calls and Texts
If you used Hangouts integration with Google Voice, you got free SMS messages and phone calls from your Voice number. If you can see the writing on the wall for Voice integration in Hangouts, you can just go ahead and download the new updated Voice app.
This will allow you to text and check your voicemails from the Voice app, but unfortunately, Voice still doesn’t have a built-in dialer.
On Android, that means that Voice uses your default dialer app — but on the desktop, that means that you still need to make and receive calls through Hangouts. Hopefully they’ll give Voice its own calling feature independent of Hangouts soon, but for now, users are kind of forced to be split between the two apps.
If you’re fine just waiting until Google officially kills Voice integration with Hangouts, though, you can just leave it integrated and continue as normal.
Or, if you find Google’s fragmented messaging strategy too irritating to deal with, try Talkatone.
Not only does it handle calls and SMS for numbers based in the United States, it also comes with a free phone number — provided that you register the app.
Another service, GrooVe IP, offers most of the same excellent services and features as Talkatone. The difference is in their pricing structures. While both offer ad-supported free versions, Talkatone’s in-app pricing runs for $1.99 per month. GrooVe IP charges a one-time fee of $6.99 for the pro version.
If neither of those work for you, try one of these alternatives for getting a free U.S. phone number.
Download — Google Voice (Free)
Download — Talkatone (Free)
Download — GrooVe IP (Free)
Temporary Phone Apps
If you want an anonymous alternative to Hangouts, considering trying a temporary phone app.
These apps provide a temporary phone number along with SMS and calling capabilities. You also get the benefit of concealing your identity. Most people use temporary phone apps for conducting Craigslist or eBay transactions. For those interested, we’ve covered anonymous messaging apps and reasons to get a burner number.
The text messages and calls don’t cost much, and they consume data rather than your phone’s minutes or SMS allotment. There are two main options you might want to try.
Burner (its name derives from “burner phone“), provides users with a temporary phone number with unlimited calls and texts. It does cost quite a bit at $5 per month, but as such a reliable app, it could be worth it.
Like Burner, Hushed can create anonymous and temporary phone numbers. It also includes a texting plan. Hushed offers several tiers of prices and services. But you can try the service out for free. I personally prefer Hushed — but the Burner app is just as good.
Download — Hushed (Free)
Download — Burner (Free)
Get All Your Messages in One Place
For those of you who use Facebook Messenger, SMS, and Whatsapp, you’re in luck. You can get all your conversations dumped into a single app: Disa. Disa’s developers intend to plug additional chat services into their app later.
Unfortunately, you still pay for SMS. Had it included interoperability with a VoIP app, such as GrooVe IP or Talkatone, it could entirely replace Hangouts (in fact, it’d be better than Hangouts). But for now, it’s just a flexible cross-platform instant messaging service.
Hopefully sometime in the future, Disa might offer a plugin for a VoIP client, and that would make it the ultimate chat app.
Download — Disa (Free)
What’s the Best Hangouts Replacement?
Right now, no perfect Hangouts replacement exists. Fortunately, if you’re done with Hangouts, most of its features can be found in other apps.
If you need a new SMS messaging client, try Android Messages. If free SMS capabilities are your thing, try out Talkatone. And for those who need a temporary number, try Hushed.
Does anyone else know of a better Hangouts alternative? Let us know in the comments!