How many apps can Google stuff into one? Earlier this year, it rolled Google Talk into Hangouts. Now it's stuffing SMS/MMS in there, and soon, Google Voice too.
With the new Hangouts, you'll have the convenience of getting most of your communications in a single app, but it still feels lacks refinement. Let's walk through the latest update and take a look at how Google is building Hangouts into an all-encompassing message center.
As mentioned, Hangouts can now facilitate all of your messaging needs, whether you want to text a friend, video chat with family across the country, or instant-message a Google contact.
When you launch the app, you'll see an archive of your most recent conversations. Swipe to left to get to the contacts list. Google prominently displays the six contacts you most frequently talk to with tiles of their respective avatars. Below it, you'll see a list of people you often hang out with, and at the very top you can type in a name, email, or phone number to begin a new Hangout with anyone. You can also venture into your Google+ circles to get a group conversation going, either by text or video. Video will be limited by your device's bandwidth, however, and even then you're only limited to ten individuals in one Hangout.
Annoyingly, Hangouts will not combine both SMS and IM conversations under a single contact, since they're utilizing two different services. Unless you're often archiving old conversations (which you can do so by swiping away each individual message) your Hangouts list will get crowded.
Those of you who aren't on KitKat will get the added benefits of the SMS integration as long as you're running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and above. If you're not on KitKat, you'll get your text messages to both the Hangouts and Messages apps, though.
Send a GIF
Hangouts may have felt a bit utilitarian before, but now they're a bit more fun with embedded images and animated GIFs.
To send a photo, simply tap the image icon in the bottom right-hand corner to attach a photo from your Google+ account or your device's photo gallery. Bear in mind that if you send the photo to a contact using the web-based Hangouts on their computer, they'll get a link to Google Photos where the image is stored. You can then access that link to see all the photos that you and that person has shared in conversations past.
Let people know how you feel
Feeling blue? Let your friends know by changing your mood from the Settings menu. If you're feeling like muting everyone for a while, you can even snooze notifications up to 72 hours.
Also, make sure to select "Share your status" from the Settings panel if you want your contacts list to let you know how you're feeling and where you're messaging from, whether it be your browser or on your phone or tablet. You can also share your location with various people if you need to pinpoint where you are.
Ready to Hangout?
We were hoping that Hangouts would follow in the footsteps of iOS's Messages, but it still has a ways to go. It's interface is easy to navigate, but having so many conversations across different mediums in one window gets exhausting. You'll eventually feel tasked from having to consistently archive messages. Google is pushing to have Android users rely on Google+ to stay in touch with friends, but it should have figured out a less discordant way of doing so.
You also can't send SMS or MMS messages over Wi-Fi, so you'll have to go with a third-party application if you're trying to avoid paying your carrier any messaging fees. With the price of cellular data packages these days, we don't blame you. Google still owes us Voice integration, too, which it said it would bring to Hangouts a while back. We expect that to arrive in the coming months.
Overall, Hangouts gets better with every incremental update, and by the time Google ties up all the loose ends it should prove to be a worthy messaging portal for Android users.