Note: Google Hangouts has been replaced by Google Meet. To learn more about the most recent updates to Google's video and chat apps, check out our guide to Google Meet vs. Google Chat vs. Google Messages.
Google Meet is now available for free. The app, which is Google's answer to Zoom, offers a tight integration with Google Calendar and real-time captions (complete with a ****ing profanity filter).
The change means that free Google users—anyone with a gmail.com or googlemail.com email address—can head to meet.google.com to schedule or start a meeting. Until now, only paying Google customers could create a meeting, although anyone could join one. (Note that some free users may not yet have access, but anyone can sign up to be notified when that changes for their account.) This means Google Meet is looking eerily similar to Hangouts now. Here we'll look at the differences between Meet and Hangouts and then walk through some limitations on the free version of Meet.
Confused about Google's (many) applications for chat and video calls? Check out our guide to Google's chat and call services for a quick breakdown.
Google Meet vs. Hangouts
Google, of course, already offers a free video chat service: Google Hangouts. How is Google Meet different from Hangouts? Here's a quick list of Meet features not found in Hangouts video calls.
Support for more participants in a call
Only 25 people can participate in a Hangouts call, but Meet supports up to 250 participants. Free users can add up to 100. It's a nice boost.
Google has some of the best transcription software in the industry, and they put that to work in Meet. Anyone participating can optionally enable captions and follow along by reading. It's surprisingly accurate! (Bonus: profanity is censored in real-time. I find this really funny to experiment with because I'm like 12, emotionally speaking.)
Better screen sharing options
Hangouts lets you share your entire screen, but Meet lets you share a specific window or even a specific tab in Chrome. This Chrome option is optimized for sharing things like videos, according to Google, and I was able to clearly watch a YouTube video from someone else's screen when I tested it.
More layout choices
Hangouts has one layout, which mostly shows the current speaker. There aren't really any other options. Google Meet offers a few different layouts to choose from, including a Zoom-style tile view. This is nice if you like seeing everyone at once.
Built-in support for recording meetings
There are unofficial ways to record Google Hangouts calls, but Meet has a built-in button for the job. The video is saved to Google Drive, and from there, you can easily share it with the rest of your team or upload it to any video sharing site.
How is the free version of Google Meet limited?
The free version of Google Meet isn't quite the same experience that paying Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) customers get. Here's a quick breakdown of the limitations.
Meetings are limited to 60 minutes for free users. Note that this won't be enforced until September 30, 2020, which should be helpful in this age of social distancing.
Meetings set up by free users can only be attended by people with a Google account. Google is marketing this as a security feature, and it would eliminate anything resembling Zoombombing from happening on Meet. It's also going to introduce friction to starting calls with people who don't have a Google account, though—especially if they're not tech-savvy. Keep this in mind.
No call-in by phone. Meetings set up by free users don't include a phone number, so people without internet access can't dial in.
Only 100 participants in a meeting. This is probably plenty for most free users, but it's far less than the 250 participants offered to the highest tier of Google Workspace users.
None of these limitations will be deal breakers for most free users, particularly when compared to Google Hangouts. And some of these features edge out the free offerings from other services. If you've been looking for an alternative to Zoom, now is the time to give Meet a chance.