Google Hangouts app review: A step forward for video chat… with some drawbacks


When you think video conferencing, you probably associate it with one of two services: Skype or FaceTime. Both are popular options for face-to-face chats over long distances and both have the ability to be used as a verb. While Google Hangouts doesn’t quite pass the verb test (“Let’s Hangouts!”), it is definitely a solid option when it comes to video communication. The service was once housed inside Google+ and though it’s still keeps ties with the social networking service, Hangouts has broken out into its own app that will eventually be Google’s all-in-one communication tool. Eventually is, unfortunately, not today.


As it stands, Hangouts is Google’s offering for a messaging and video chat service between Google+ users. You do have to have a Google+ account to use Hangouts, which may turn some people off, but it’s not particularly difficult to make one nor will it cost you anything. The Hangouts app allows you to carry on a conversation with up to 10 other users, either from your address book or from your Google+ Circles. The selection screen for picking the people to chat with is a little confusing; some users are listed with photos in boxes on the top of the screen and the rest of your contacts are in list form at the bottom. The best assumption we can make is the ones in boxes are your recent or most common chat partners, but we’re really not sure. There is a search feature – of course there is, this is Google after all – so if all else fails you can just type in your intended contact, but it seems like the contact list could use some fixing.

Once you are in a chat, you can converse with your Hangout partners via text messages (complete with emojis), photos, or video chat. The texts come scrolling in in real time and Hangouts keeps an archive of your conversations so you can go back and forth over a long period of time. Of course, the real appeal here is the video chat. Google Hangouts also gives you the option to have an on-camera conversation with up to 10 people at the same time, and it lets it happen across multiple platforms. Android, iOS, and desktop users can all be in the same video conference. When a person talks in the video chat, their video is brought to attention on screen, sending the others in the call down to a smaller box until they speak again. It’s a cool feature, though it can get a little messy with too many voices. Still, for the most part it works great and keeps your attention on the person talking. The quality of the call will vary based on your connection, but on our Wi-Fi connection it worked well.

Android, iOS, and desktop users can all be in the same video conference.

The text side of the equation does still live a bit to be desired, though. It doesn’t really feel like a fully functioning instant messaging client in the way that Kik or does. There is no ability to set statuses or make people aware that you’re away from keyboard and there’s no indication in your address book of who is available to chat. People who are online in some form – they could be in a call, set to away or busy, or actually online and available – don’t have their photo faded like those that are definitely offline, but that’s the only indication that they may be around and ready.  

When you get into a Hangout, be it video or text, the Google Hangouts experience is great. But it does feel like the rest of this app could be better. The contacts list is an unexplainable mess and there seems to be features missing that really differentiate Hangouts as a standalone from the chat features in Google+ itself. While Google has made it clear that it intends to bring SMS functionality and integrate Google Voice into Hangouts, it’s not there yet. Once those features find their way into Hangouts, it will likely be a formidable choice for all forms of communication, especially given its unique cross platform capabilities that buck the operating system problem. Until then, it’ll continue to feel like Hangouts left home a little prematurely. 


I tried an LTE laptop for a month, and I wasn’t really convinced

LTE laptops offer up plenty of benefits and are becoming more common. After spending one month with one in my daily life in New York City, I really wondered if it is something that consumers really need in their lives.
Movies & TV

Do you have questions about Hulu? We’ve got answers

Not sure which Hulu subscription is right for you? We're here to help. This is your complete guide to Hulu and Hulu with Live TV, including content offerings for each service, pricing, internet requirements, and more.

Looking for flexible and inexpensive phone service? Check out our favorite MVNOs

Looking to switch from a major carrier to something a little more affordable? Luckily, there are a ton of great MVNO options to choose from. Check out our guide to the best MVNOs, from Boost Mobile to Google Fi.
Smart Home

Google Store sale is on now through December 24!

Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2018 may be history, but fans of Google hardware including the popular Google Home Hub, Pixel 3 and 3XL mobile phones still have lots of deals in store -- the Google Store, that is.

G’day, Google: U.S. users can now give Assistant a British or Australian accent

U.S. Google Assistant users can give their Assistant a different voice. Google has updated Assistant with the ability for users to give it either a British or Australian accent, which could make it a little more personal for some.

Tune in to the best internet radio stations for your listening pleasure

Even in the streaming era, radio stations get some of the best exclusives and curate some of the finest handpicked playlists around. Here are the best internet radio stations, for your listening pleasure.

Leave the laptop at home, the iPad Pro is the travel buddy to take on vacay

The iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that's perfect for creatives and professionals. How does it fare when traveling with it as a laptop replacement? We took it on a two week trek in Japan to find out.

Microsoft’s latest patent paves the way for Andromeda dual-screen mobile device

The latest patent discovery from Microsoft showcases a new hinge design for quickly opening a dual-screen mobile device with a single hand. Could this be additional proof surrounding the rumors of the company's Project Andromeda device?

Need to record calls on an iPhone? Check out our handy guide

Are you wondering how to record calls on your iPhone? It isn't as easy as you might think, but we'll walk you through the process of doing so with Google Voice, and identify several other apps and external voice recorders that can help.
Home Theater

Set your ears free with the best completely wireless earbuds

If you can't stand the tangle of cords, or you're just excited about completely wireless earbuds, you're going to need some help separating the wheat from the chaff. Our list serves up the best true wireless earbuds around.

Apple is spending $1 billion to hire up to 15,000 new employees in Austin

Apple has announced a series of expansions across the U.S. -- including a massive expansion to the company's Austin campus that will see it spending $1 billion to accommodate for up to 15,000 new employees.

Google Maps makes it easier than ever to find a Lime bike or scooter

Google Maps has added a new feature that helps you find a Lime bike or scooter in just a few taps. The feature currently works in 11 U.S. cities served by Lime, with more coming next year.

Quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed

Looking for a few accoutrements to make your smartphone even better? If you, or someone you know, is a sucker for accessories, you'll want to check out our collection of quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed.

Ditch your smartphone for a year and win $100k from Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater is willing to part with $100,000 if you're willing to part with your smartphone partner for a year. Could you last for a year armed with only a 1996-era phone? Here's your chance to find out.