There might be only one real criteria for the best chat app for your team: How easy it is for everyone to use. With dozens of great video and text chat apps for teams–each of which include quite similar features–the deciding factor is often down to the way your team works.
Google Hangouts quickly became that default, easiest-to-use chat option for many teams thanks to it running in your browser and being deeply integrated in Google's other apps. Create a new Google Calendar event, and you'll get a Hangouts video chat link included automatically—and can pick up your chat conversations right inside Gmail.
This year, Google is doubling down on its success with Hangouts, splitting it into two apps for businesses: Meet and Chat. Here's how to start using Google's new Hangouts Meet video calls today—and which of Google's half-dozen chat apps you should be using.
The best thing to come out of Google's social network experiment was Hangouts. It's a solid, free video chat app that's built into Gmail and Google Calendar, making it the simplest way to jump on a call with colleagues. Its text chat is basic, much like the older IM-style Google Talk app, but Hangouts' high-quality videos with 25 participants more than made up for that.
Recently, Google split text chat off into a brand new app that has more in common with Slack than IM, along with a redesigned version of of their video chat.
First up is a refresh of Google Hangouts' video chat, this time rebranded as Google Hangouts Meet or just Meet. It's much the same as Hangouts—in fact, it appears to be using the very same backend service, just on a different domain and with a refreshed UI. Meet is designed around scheduled calls. You'll book appointments first in Google Calendar, then open meet.google.com and jump on the call when it's time.
For the most part, Meet is the same as Hangouts' video calls—only with a fresh new design focused just on video chat. There's no text chat—that's saved for the companion Hangouts Chat app. Instead, you'll get full-screen video with up to 25 participants for G Suite Basic and Business plans and 30 participants for G Suite Enterprise customers. And you can start using it today.
If you have a paid G Suite account, you can start using the new Google Hangouts Meet app for your team calls today. You can't start a call directly from Meet yet—but you can schedule a video call in Google Calendar, and join it from Meet. Here's how.
First, make a new appointment in Google Calendar. Invite any participants, schedule it for the time you want, and then tap the Add video call link under the video location. That'll add a Google Hangouts link to your event—and also add it to the new Meet app.
Now, when it's time for your call, go to meet.google.com in Google Chrome—that's the only supported browser right now. You'll see a list of your upcoming meetings as in the top screenshot on this article. Tap the correct meeting, then join the video call much as you would for a standard Hangouts video.
Unlike Google Hangouts' often dark interface, Meet puts its tools in a bright white toolbar. You can turn off your camera, mute your mic, or share your screen—and you can see each call participant on the right side of your screen. Much like Hangouts, the video of the person who's currently talking will be shown in the main part of your window.
If you want to share your screen, Meet will let you share your full desktop or choose one app to share. Its window selector reminds us of Zoom—and it's actually part of the webpage, even though it looks like a separate window.
Google Meet worked well in our tests—much the same as traditional Hangouts. Its only problem is is the same: It drains your battery and kicks in your laptop's fans on longer calls.
If your video's running slow, you can switch from the default 720p stream to 360p video. Or you can switch to the traditional Hangouts interface if you'd like—just tap the menu button on the right, and select Hangouts to switch apps without quitting the call.
And that's it. Meet's a simplified version of traditional Hangouts video chat, still one of the best ways to jump on a call with your team. It's Chrome-only for now—but you can still use Hangouts' mobile apps to join Meet calls.
Then, sometime soon, Meet will gain a text chat sidekick: Google Hangouts Chat. It's a brand-new team chat app from Google, one that's most similar to apps like Slack and HipChat than anything Google has released so far.
Hangouts Chat is focused on ongoing conversations between teams in your company. You'll make groups to keep chats focused and can reply directly to any message to turn it into a sub-conversation. Or you can message individuals for one-to-one chats inside your company. It's also deeply integrated with the rest of G Suite, so you can share documents and manage appointments right from chat.
Perhaps most exciting is Google Hangouts Chat's built-in integrations and bots. It comes with a built in
@meet bot which, similar to Google Assistant in Allo chats, will help you find appointments and other info from your Google account. Then, with integrations from apps like QuickBooks, Box, and Zapier, you can send notifications about new data into your team chat and build your own bots without coding.
It's coming later this year, with web and mobile apps, and will be Google's biggest push into team communications in years.
Over Google's history, the company has launched over a dozen voice and text chat apps. Google Talk and Wave are long gone, but with the new Meet and Chat apps, the search giant still supports a half-dozen chat apps. It's not certain which apps will still be around years from now—but it feels like Hangouts' days as a consumer app are numbered.
Which of Google's chat apps should you use? Here's a quick guide to what each app offers:
for chatting with your friends
Allo combines a couple of Google's current focuses. It's a fun chat app designed to take on Facebook's Messenger and Apple's iMessage, with stickers, suggested replies, and built-in drawing tools. You can chat individually with friends–as long as they're using the Allo app as well–or can create a group with up to 250 people.
The biggest reason to try it out today, though, is for Google Assistant. A chatbot powered by a similar AI to the one in the Google Now voice assistant, Google Assistant can find travel details from your email, lookup plane ticket info, and tell you a joke. It's a Siri you don't have to talk to.
It wouldn't be too surprising if Allo eventually shows up inside non-work Gmail accounts. For now, though, you'll need to use Allo's mobile apps to chat.
Find out more and download at allo.google.com
for quick one-to-one video calls
Ever wished FaceTime worked on Android phones too? Or want Hangouts video chat without all the extra features? Google Duo is the video chat app you've wanted.
Duo's one of the easiest to use video call apps. Just open the app, tap a contact, and talk to them in full-screen video seconds later. It's the video call counterpart to Allo, and just might replace the consumer-focused version of Hangouts video calls.
Find out more and download at duo.google.com
for sending SMS and MMS messages on Android
Want to send SMS and MMS messages on your Android device? This is the app it seems Google wants you to use, at least according to a notification the Hangouts app showed last year.
Messages is simple, with an Allo-style interface for sending traditional messages from your phone. It works without an internet connection, and that's its strongest feature.
Find out more and download from the Google Play store
for text, video, and phone calls all in one app
Google Hangouts is the chat app for everything—for now, at least. It's the chat app that's built into Gmail, and on Android combines SMS and online chat much like Apple's Messages app. You can chat with anyone else with a Google account—paid or free. You can also video-call up to 25 people at once, complete with effects like adding a fake hat to your head or playing a sound effect to prank friends. Want to reach a broader audience? Hangouts is what powers YouTube Live, for live broadcasts streamed from your chat app.
Hangouts works everywhere: On mobile and on most desktop browsers. It's a click away in Gmail, and whenever you make a new Google Calendar appointment, you'll get a Hangouts link as well to easily jump on a call.
For G Suite business accounts, Hangouts is forking into the aforementioned Meet and Chat apps, the former for video calls and the latter for text chats. It's already one of the easiest ways for most teams to jump on a video call, and it's exciting to see how Hangouts Chat will get integrated into the rest of Google's apps.
For consumers, though, it's yet to be seen if Hangouts will live on—or be replaced with Allo and Duo.
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