Hangouts is Google's answer to Microsoft's Skype and Apple's Facetime video chat tool. It's also Google's answer to Facebook Messenger, which is a very dangerous game to be playing, considering the popularity of Facebook messenger, and the enormous resources Google has at its disposal. Hangouts is an excellent alternative to Skype and Facetime and is even better than Facebook Messenger, but it's not the last word in video calling.
The first thing you'll notice about Hangouts is that it's not based on the web, but on the Google App Engine, the same platform that powers Google Apps, Google Buzz, and Google Search. Hangouts is also tied to Google+, so you can't use Hangouts to video chat with someone who doesn't have Google+ set up.
Google says this is for security reasons, but it's really a bit of a hassle if you don't have Google+ set up.
There is a free version of Hangouts, which limits you to sending one message and one video message a day. This version is good enough for people who just want to chat with their friends, family, and business associates, but if you want to video chat with people outside of your circle, you'll have to pay.
There is also a paid version of Google+, which includes a few extra features, like sharing presentations and adding people to your circles, but those are features that you can get for free with G+ in other ways.
Hangouts is built on Google App Engine, which is a web-based platform. It's fast, secure, and reliable, but I find it a bit limiting. You can't access your account settings, or the configuration of your account, from the web, which is a little inconvenient.
You can't even see your contacts list from the web, which is a bit annoying. You have to fire up the Google+ app on your smartphone and access your contacts list from there.
The web interface is great for video calls, and for chatting with people who use Google+ for their social network, but it's not great for anything else.
When you sign up for Hangouts, you get access to the web interface, and you can use your Google+ account to search for people and add them to your circles.
The web interface for Hangouts is beautiful and very well designed. The chit-chat feature is great for quick messaging.
Video calling is handled by Hangouts' Hangouts Chat feature, which is a lot like Google Talk's chat feature, but for video calls. Hangouts chat includes all the features you'd expect from a chat feature, like messaging, emoticons, and the ability to send images, and videos.
The video quality is good, and the chat feature is easy to use. If you're used to Google's other chat services, you'll feel right at home. I also like the fact that Google has kept the Hangouts chat feature just for video calls, but added a separate chat feature, just for text chat, which is great for nimble fingers.
- You can chat and call with a single contact or with a group of people
- You can create a Hangout On Air and invite people to it
- You can share your screen with a group of people
- You can video chat with the people you are chatting with
- Hangouts do not support file sharing. You can only share links and images