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This year at Google I/O, the good folks at Mountain View unveiled their vision for unified messaging. The new and improved Hangouts was supposed to be the best way for loyal Google users to communicate with one another. It encompassed text, picture, and video messaging in one convenient place. After years of taking flak for having no less than three separate messaging apps (Google+ Messenger, Google Talk, and Messaging), Google has finally reduced that number down to… two. Well done.

After some time using the new Hangouts, we’ve come to a few impressions of the service. Is it worth using? How well does everything work? Should you even bother downloading it? We’ve got the answers all inside, so don’t stop reading here. Seriously, don’t let our work go to waste.

A Better Way to Hang Out

On the surface, Hangouts seems like the perfect solution to the problem of unified messaging. In a nutshell, there are too many competing services these days. Juggling five different apps to talk to different people is just silly.

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Google Hangouts meets a few key requirements we had for unified messaging. First, it’s unbound from any one platform. You can use the service on Android, iOS, and PC.

Not being bound to one platform is definitely the way of the future for messaging. Similar to IMAP email, your messages are stored on a central server rather than in one place. Hangouts take away the worry of syncing and backing up messages and all that.

After using it for a month or so to talk with some people, we like it. Hangout is a slick app with an easy interface. The syncing between devices is a godsend as well. No more messing with MightyText or AirDroid. Just a simple native client, the way it should be.

Leaving It All Hanging Out

Then there are the problems with Hangouts. This is a first-party Google product, with all the problems that entail. Hangouts rely on your friends being on Google+, and precious few people have friends on that network.

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Then there’s the issue of Hangouts not really unifying anything outside of Google products. It combines Gtalk and Google+ Messenger. Skype, Reddit, Steam, Whatsapp, and Facebook are all left out in the cold.

The worst problem with the service, though, is that it lacks SMS support. iMessage is cool because it defaults to SMS when it can’t send something over data. It doesn’t lock out non-smartphone users. Perhaps Google should work on a messaging solution like the one CyanogenMod team is working on.

The sad fact is that a large percentage of the world still uses a “dumbphone” or a smartphone but not Google+. Most people simply don’t care enough to set up anything outside of SMS.

Final Thoughts

Google Hangouts is a great service with a great flaw. It relies entirely too much on Google+. If Mountain View had been willing to do something along the lines of iMessage and allow Hangouts between any two Android users, maybe things would be different.

As it is, Hangouts is a great service built on a mediocre social network. If your friends are as invested in Google as you are, it’s perfect. If not… well, there’s always SMS.