Before this app, Google offered two ways to use Hangouts – in a browser tab, on Google Plus or Gmail, or by using the Hangouts Chrome extension. The new app offers the same functionality in a nicer standalone package that borrows some Chat Heads flair from Facebook’s Messenger.
The new app features a Material-inspired design, with the same hue of green as the header of the recently updated Hangouts Android app. Conversations and contacts are now listed in two tabs at the top of the app, making it easier to start new chat sessions.
The app lives permanently on your desktop through a green floating bubble that you can move around. Starting a conversation will open up a “chat head” and you can have as many as you want open, though you can’t relocate them individually. It’s a neat little concept, but it may take some time to adjust to.
If you use Google Voice, all the functionality of the service can be accessed from the new Chrome app, including voice and SMS.
The notifications are nicer as well, with a nice message count icon showing for each chat head and message previews .
So why did Google release a Hangouts Chrome app when it had a perfectly functional Hangouts Chrome extension already? It’s because the Chrome app acts more like a native app – you can have a shortcut to it in the Windows taskbar and the app doesn’t close when you close the Chrome browser. The Chrome extension had the same functionality, but it required the user to check the “run in the background” option.
Install the new Hangouts app for Windows or Chrome OS from here and let us know what you think.