Google Hangouts used to be about talking to people over Google+. With Hangouts 2.0, Google has expanded to absorb Google Talk and included the ability to send SMS/MMS messages.
It’s also a great way to talk to friends using data instead of SMS. Kind of like iMessage (but not really), other Android users who’ve set up Hangouts have the option of using instant messaging (IM) instead of a standard SMS.
If you’re using Android 4.0 it’s easy to set this up and you may find it useful to replace your default SMS messaging app entirely.
Getting Set Up
First you’ll need to make sure you have the latest update. Go to Hangouts on the Play Store and hit the Update button. The next time you open the app it should prompt you to ‘Allow SMS’.
Second, you’ll want to start linking your contacts. If you’re anything like us, you probably have a personal email, Facebook, phone number and work email for each person.
Unfortunately there’s no super-quick way of linking them together and the method differs between different brands of Android device. Generally, you go in to the ‘Contacts’ or ‘People’ section of your device, tap on a contact and hit menu. The option is either called [Link] or [Merge Contact] .
Even though it can take a little while, we highly suggest that you merge your contacts. Once you have, Hangouts becomes a much simpler and more-useful way of communicating. It’s well worth getting done, even if you don’t end up being a fan of using Hangouts.
How Google Hangouts messaging works
Eventually Hangouts will be the native messaging app and is already the default on Android 4.4 devices running the vanilla Android UI.
Unfortunately, right now Hangouts is not the default; you have to make it the default yourself and enable it to send and receive SMSes. This means that most of the messages you send will have to be sent via regular SMS, because the other user is unlikely to be on Hangouts.
Moreover, Hangouts doesn’t auto-detect if the other person is a Hangouts user and convert your SMS messages to an Instant Message (like iMessage). Instead, each conversation is stored as a separate thread within a person’s contact, depending on what medium you sent it over.
So, if I were to open up a conversation I had with my friend Alex, I could choose between the SMS and the IM conversations. They’re still totally separate, just like they were before, but at least they’re stored in the same place and easy to switch between.
It’s not iMessage
Hangouts 2.0 has been compared to Apple’s iMessage quite a bit, but this can be misleading. iMessage detects when you’re connected to a data network and switches to IM, instead of SMS. This only works if you’re talking to someone else who’s using iMessage.
The good thing here is that IM services have more options than SMS. IMs can be sent and received by any internet-connected device like a tablet or desktop. They can also be sent internationally at no charge. Even better, all iPhones and Apple Macs come with iMessage as the default (and unchangeable) messaging app, so your Apple friends are guaranteed to actually be using it.
Hassle-free directions to your location
The location button is one of the most useful Hangouts features. This isn’t an always-on tag that lets people stalk you a la Facebook; it’s a simple function that cuts down on how often you have to type out addresses or directions.
Tap the location button and hit send. If the other person is using Hangouts they’ll receive a screenshot of your location that will take them to the full Maps app if they tap it. If they are using a PC or SMS app they’ll receive the link but not the picture.
Either way they can now make their own way to wherever you are.
You can also send animated GIFs, set a mood status, or automatically display what type of device you’re currently on. Another useful feature is the in-call status, which allows people to expect a delay in your message response time.