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 for Android, SMS/MMS alternatives, video calling apps like Skype, and even alternative Dialer apps – but what if there was one app that could take the place of all of those?
Meet Google Hangouts. 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 other platforms, 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.
Download: Google Hangouts for Android (Free)
Hangouts on Android is decked out in its signature green, though it hasn’t yet gotten the full Material Design makeover. It has three tabs along the top: contacts, messages, and dialer (once you download the free Dialer add-on, which you should).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
Back when we compared Hangouts and Facebook Messenger, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.