Hangouts (for iPhone) review

Hangouts is great for messaging users with Google Accounts, but it's just not as simple and convenient as Apple's baked-in offerings.
Photo of Hangouts (for iPhone)
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Titanic shifts within Google have destroyed many beloved services, one of them being Google Talk. But from the ashes of Google Talk rises Hangouts (free); the new king of sending text, sharing pictures, and video chatting between Google users. While it kinda-sorta brings Android users feature parity to Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime, iPhone users will find it pales in comparison  to Apple’s baked-in services.

Space to Chat
On iOS, Hangouts uses the same clean, minimalist style as seen on Google+ and Google Keep. Instead of the traditional model of a buddy lists, Hangouts shows you the contacts on your device that have Google accounts and a search bar. There also isn’t a way to set a status; either you’ll answer or you won’t.

I didn’t like that the emphasis seems to be less on browsing who’s online to chat, and more like sending an email since it is harder to communicate if you’re available to chat.

Hangouts doesn’t support other chat services, so you won’t be able to message someone on AIM through the Hangouts app, the way you could with Adium on a Mac. But you can message anyone with a Google account (which is basically everyone) and your message will appear on your recipient’s iOS device, Android device, in Gmail, on Google+, or in their chat client if it can connect to Google. I did notice that the Windows chat client Trillian did not include the responses I wrote from the Hangouts app, but otherwise Hangouts kept up with the conversation regardless of where the messages were sent.

Unfortunately, Hangouts requires you to have a Google+ account to send images.  

Going Video
Any chat in Hangouts can be converted to a video chat by tapping the video camera icon in the upper right corner. As with a text chat, the person you’re calling will see the invite on their phone or computer, and can respond from either.

In my testing, I used an iPhone 4S  on Verizon’s network to video chat with a Nexus 7 tablet connected via Wi-Fi. While the video wasn’t always crystal clear, it looked good enough and there was surprisingly little lag.

I particularly liked that Hangouts lets you toggle between text and video once you’ve started a video chat. And thankfully, you can also toggle between front and rear-facing cameras on your iPhone. Note that you’re limited to person-to-person video calls, unless you’ve activated Google+, which lets you chat with up to 10 people.

Numerous Notifications
Presumably to promote maximum connectivity, Google asks to enable notifications for Hangouts during setup.  These are useful if you don’t use Hangouts on other devices, but if you do it quickly becomes annoying.

If you don’t want to see constant notifications, then you can turn off notification from the iOS Settings menu. You can also Snooze notifications from inside Hangouts for set lengths of time, but don’t be deceived by the Off option—this just turns off Snooze and reactivates notifications. Note that the Hangouts will still update your chat regardless of whether the app is running or not.

Limited Choices
Hangouts makes a lot of sense on Android since it connects you to other Google users and devices. That’s still valuable on iOS, but it’s up against some pretty stiff competition. The iOS Messages app has free iOS to iOS messages and FaceTime built right in, giving me immediate access to all of my contacts. By comparison, it makes Hangouts feel like little more than an appendage.


Verdict
Hangouts is great for messaging users with Google Accounts, but it's just not as simple and convenient as Apple's baked-in offerings.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc