Google Hangouts - Finally Usable?
Has Google Hangouts worked out the annoying kinks, and removed the hoops through which users formerly had to jump to enjoy free phone calls, video chat and messaging? Hangouts promises to be the "one app for all your conversations" on desktop or mobile devices. So are we there yet? Read on...
Google Hangouts: Free Calls and More
Hangouts has had a strange history. It originated as a video chat feature on Google+, the social network that never quite succeeded at giving Facebook a run for its money. Since then, it's evolved into a cross-platform tool for instant messaging, SMS texting, video chat and voice calling.
I've never been a big fan of messaging or video chat. Email is my tool of choice for communicating. But who doesn't like free phone calls? The problem in the past has been the confusing relationship between Google+, Hangouts, Google Voice, Google Chat, and Google Talk.
Getting set up to make a phone call was difficult; it involved installing a browser plugin and clicking some obscure link on your Gmail window. And for many people, it either didn't work reliably, or didn't work at all. The good news is that with the latest version of Google Hangouts on both desktop and mobile, most of those problems are history.
For desktop messaging, Hangouts now has its very own website, https://hangouts.google.com. You need to be logged in to a Google account, but you don’t need a Google Voice number, or any phone number, to start video calls, send and receive text messages, or place voice calls for free within the USA and Canada. International calls at bargain rates are also available.
If you do happen to be a fan of video chat, Hangouts is a great choice. Using a microphone and webcam, you can start a hangout and connect with one friend, or invite up to 10 people to join in a group video chat. You can even share your screen, which is handy for demonstrations, or tech support.
If you want to share with a bigger audience, Hangouts on Air lets you broadcast live events to a global audience. These public events can take the form of a webinar, a concert, a church service, a business presentation or just some guy ranting about whatever is on his mind. You can view the Hangouts on Air happening now, or start your own.
Hangouts for Mobile Users
Google rolled out the Android version of Hangouts 4.0, its integrated messaging app, on August 10, 2015. So far, 1.3 million users have rated the new Hangouts, and reviews are mixed – averaging 3.9 out of 5 stars. That’s a full star better than the average was for the last version.
Hangouts 4.0 is faster, simpler, and prettier, according to Google. Users’ opinions vary, with some saying they’ve reverted back to older versions. Superficially, at least, the contacts list search function works better, and it’s even possible to start a new Hangout with a spoken command.
Some of the biggest flaws in the mobile version of Hangouts have been fixed, too. Before v4.0, for example, you could not attach a photo to a message you’d already started. The “attach” icon changed to “send” as soon as you started typing. Now, there’s a row of shortcut buttons available at all times. Snap a photo, attach a photo or emoji, share your location, and “send” are all there at once.
One thing that still needs fixing is the need to download the Hangouts Dialer app to make voice calls through Hangouts. This should be integrated into Hangouts for it to be considered a truly unified messaging app. The upside is that it allows you to call any phone number (landline or mobile) from Hangouts without burning up the minutes in your cell plan. And as in the desktop version, most calls to (and within) the US and Canada are free.
Outbound Caller ID is new, too, although it’s not enabled by default. In previous versions of Hangouts, only a Google Voice number could be sent as your Caller-ID; if you didn’t have a GV number your recipients saw “UNKNOWN CALLER” on their screens. Now you can set your phone’s number as the Caller-ID.
It's worth noting that there's a Hangouts for iOS app, which is highly rated by iPhone and iPad users. Unlike its Android cousin, no extra app is required to send make voice calls. Hangouts are synced automatically across devices, so you can start a Hangout on your iOS device and continue on another device, like your computer.
Hangouts has made progress, both at fixing the early annoyances, and at eliminating much of the confusion of what it's trying to be. So is it ready for prime time, as a cross-platform unified messaging tool? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 31 Aug 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Google Hangouts - Finally Usable? (Posted: 31 Aug 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved