Woman using hangouts video call

Credit: Phillip Prado / Android Authority

Now that millions of people around the globe are practicing social distancing thanks to the current coronavirus pandemic, digitally keeping in touch is more important than ever. This includes facilitating video meetings with your coworkers while you work remotely or just checking in with your friends and family. If you find yourself looking for a robust tool for either of these use cases, you should consider Google Hangouts.

Related: Top 10 tips for remote work: Stay productive while working from home

Google Hangouts is a free chat, audio calling, and video calling service. Using it is relatively straightforward. All you need to get started is a Google account. But before we talk about how to use Google Hangouts, let’s talk about what it is exactly.

What is Google Hangouts?

Hangouts originally started as a feature in Google+ long before the social network’s timely demise. Google eventually launched a standalone Hangouts app May 2013. Since then, the app has gained (and lost) a few features. Unfortunately, the Hangouts brand name has split into a slightly confusing set of communication tools. This includes Chat, Meet, and Dialer.

Classic Google Hangouts lets users message either one-on-one or in groups of up to 150 people. They can also video chat with other individuals or in groups of up to 10. On the other hand, business Google account users can video chat in groups with up to 25 people.

Related: 10 best alternatives to FaceTime on Android!

The other apps in the Hangouts ecosystem are for Google Voice subscribers and G Suite users. If you have a Voice account, Hangouts users can call anyone around the world for free using the Dialer app.

If you have a G Suite account, you can also use Hangouts Chat and Meet. Chat offers a similar experience to Slack with Google search functionality built-in and Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets integration. Meet touts similar video chat functionality to classic Hangouts but with a more robust feature set. This includes support for video and audio meetings with up to 250 users and Google Calendar integration for meeting details and scheduling.

Eventually, Google will most likely retire classic Hangouts and move free users over to Meet and Chat without needing G Suite accounts. Until then, the standard Hangouts app is available for everyone. It’s also accessible online and has a Google Chrome extension.

How to use the Google Hangouts App

Perhaps the best and easiest way to use Hangouts is with the app. It’s available on Android and iOS, and you don’t need to worry about peripherals since your smartphone contains a built-in camera and microphone.

To get started, you will need to download the Google Hangouts app. From there, you’ll need to sign in to the Google account of your choice. There’s no need to set up a Hangouts profile because it uses the information you have already set from your Gmail account.

Read also: 10 best VoIP and SIP apps for Android!

Once you’ve signed in with the account of your choice, you can now start messaging and video chatting.

How to start a new conversation or video call

  • Tap the green and white “+” button at the bottom right of the app and select either New conversation or New video call.
  • You can then type in the name, email address, or phone number of an existing Hangouts user to start a text-based conversation or video call.
    • If you start a new conversation with someone who does not use Hangouts yet by entering their email address or phone number, it will send them an invite to use the service.
  • To message multiple people at once, you can create groups by selecting New group below the contact entry field and adding up to 150 people.
  • To video chat with multiple people at once, just add up to nine contacts in the entry field when starting a video call.
    • If you have a business account, you can video chat with up to 24 other people.
  • You can add more people to groups at any time by selecting the three verticle dots at the top right of the UI from within the group and tapping People.
  • You can also invite more people to an ongoing video chat by tapping the three verticle dots at the top right of the video call and selecting Invite.
    • There’s an option to share a link to an ongoing video call. If you share that link with someone and they click it, they can join the video call by simply signing in with their Gmail account.

Once you’ve started an individual or group conversation, you will be able to pick up where you left off by selecting the conversation from the app’s main page.


How to use Hangouts in your web browser

Google Hangouts online

If you would rather use Hangouts in your web browser, it’s pretty simple. First, you’ll need to have a microphone and webcam set up if you want to video chat. Most laptops will have both of these built-in. If your laptop does not or you are using a desktop, you’ll need to set up some external peripherals.

Related: The 6 best webcams you can buy

Once you do that, navigate to hangouts.google.com in your computer browser. You’ll need to sign in with your desired Google account if you are not already. Once you’re there, starting text and video conversations is pretty straightforward.

How to start a new conversation or video call

  • Tap the Message or Video call icon in the center of the screen.
  • You can then type in the name, email address, or phone number of an existing Hangouts user to start a text-based conversation or video call.
    • If you enter the email address or phone number of someone who does not use Hangouts yet, it will send them an invite to use the service.
  • To message multiple people at once, you can create groups by selecting New group below the contact entry field and adding up to 150 people.
  • To video chat with multiple people at once, just add up to nine contacts in the entry field when starting a video call.
    • If you have a business account, you can video chat with up to 24 other people.
  • You can add more people to groups at any time by selecting the person icon at the top left of the conversation window.
  • You can also invite more people to an ongoing video chat by tapping the icon of a person with a “+” next to it at the top right of the UI.
    • There’s an option to share a link to an ongoing video call. If you share that link with someone and they click it, they can join the video call by simply signing in with their Gmail account.

Also, note that your data continuously syncs between the app and the website. That means you can set up a group video call in your browser and access it anytime from your mobile phone.


How to use the Chrome extension

Google Hangouts Google Chrome extension

Lastly, there’s the Chrome extension. Just like the website, you’ll need a microphone and webcam if you want to video call. You’ll also need to use Google Chrome or another Chromium-based browser like the new Microsoft Edge.

Then, in the supported browser of your choice, navigate to the Google Hangouts extension page. Once you add the extension to your browser, you’ll have a new Google hangouts icon in your browser’s toolbar. Click that icon to open the Hangouts extension popup window.

Read also: Google finally announces Chrome App death timeline

If you’re already signed into your Google account on your browser, the extension will sign into your Hangouts account automatically. If you’re not signed in, Hangouts will prompt you to do so. Once you finish signing in, starting a new conversation or video call is quite similar to the previous methods, with a few minor differences.

How to start a new conversation or video call

  • Tap New conversation at the top left-hand of the window.
  • You can then type in the name, email address, or phone number of an existing Hangouts user to start a text-based conversation.
    • If you enter the email address or phone number of someone who does not use Hangouts yet, it will send them an invite to use the service.
  • To message multiple people at once, you can create groups by selecting New group below the contact entry field and adding up to 150 people.
  • To video chat, you need to start a conversation first, and then click the video camera icon at the top right of the conversation window.
  • You can also invite more people to an ongoing video chat by tapping the icon of a person with a “+” next to it at the top right of the UI.
    • You can invite up to nine other people in a video call under a standard Google account and 24 other people under a business account.
    • There’s also an option to share a link to an ongoing video call. If you share that link with someone and they click it, they can join the video call by simply signing in with their Gmail account.

Like the website and app, your conversations continuously sync across your account.

Get the Google Hangouts Chrome Extension


There you go! Now, you know how to use Google Hangouts. Go set up video meetings, check in on family members, or catch up with friends, no matter where they are in the world!

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