Sometimes, you can not just acknowledge how true a rumour turns out to be. In the case of “Babel” (now christened as Hangouts) it could not be more true given the flurry of rumours surrounding a unified chat client. It’s here as they all predicted : a unified, slick and intuitive chat client for Android, iOS and Google Chrome with all your conversations converged in the cloud. Here is an in-depth review of Google Hangouts for Android
Google is slowly rolling out Hangouts for Android in play store. If you are impatient, here is our neat little guide on how to install Google Hangouts on your favourite device. If you would prefer using a PC, you can check out the Chrome extension.
Keep in mind that Google does verify your phone number, something which was not done previously for Google Talk installation.
The Interface : A Kick in the Rear for Every IM Client
It can be safely said that Hangouts is one of the slickest interfaces ever for a chat client. Hangouts literally makes WhatsApp seem to be from the Stone Age. Eye popping animations, tight Holo Light theming throughout the application and zippy transitions that are a treat to watch. And yes, all this on a not so new ICS device.
Speaking Functionality Wise : Where it matters the most
Hangouts takes signficant departure from the traditional IM clients in a lot of aspects. To begin with, you can either directly start chatting with your existing Google Talk / G+ friends (who surely will serve as the base) or directly send an invite to any friend on your phone contact list.
Coming to the core aspect, the conversations , we feel this will be one of the strongest points of Hangouts. Think of it : Same conversations, synced neatly all across to your devices to the letter, without a second delay. We tested the bold claim and it worked just flawlessly across devices.
Hangouts displays a thumbnail of people online in the conversation. On tapping the thumbnails you can see the point up to which the conversation has been read.
One of the trivial yet important aspects of an IM client is Emoji. We have been witnessing plenty of apps downright aping every Whatsapp’s emoticon . Hike and Messenger, I am pointing at you ( though the latter does have stickers). However, Hangouts manages to have its own bunch of emoticons, which quite frankly gives a distinct look to the app and is a refreshing break from Whatsapp emoji.
Video Calling : A No Nonsense, Google approach
Now while a good plain Text based IM client service would be easily sufficient to topple the carts of a whole bunch of IM providers, Google looks seemingly prepared to go on a step further and has added video calling that actually works very well. There is no dedicated audio call, like in it’s predecessor, however you can achieve the same effect by merely turning off the video.
Speaking of video call itself, the quality of the video turns out to be a much better than on Skype or Viber. Google has effectively put a lot of thought in designing the application and it clearly shows. For example, (as seen in the left image) when you tap on the screen when on call, you can toggle cameras, mute audio/video and switch speakers. If you tap on one of the participants on the hangout you can selectively ignore them, or just block the audio, or just simply zoom in to them.
TL:DR ; making video calls via Hangouts is dead easy and is perhaps one of the snappiest and well thought-of video call implementation.
Message Delivery and Performance
The app as mentioned earlier is quite unbelievably snappy. Sliding in the main activity is very smooth and so is every other animation even on a Android 4.0.4 device. However, when switching from video chat to text there seems to be slight stuttering which is very forgivable given the fact that this is just the first release of the app.
Message delivery is near instantaneous and was head and shoulders above Whatsapp, which is notorious in this regards at times. Also, the notification when someone is typing is very welcome too. But do note that getting adjusted to people online being displayed at the bottom takes a bit of time.
Quirks : Oh there are plenty
While Hangouts is a spectacular release for a Google I/O announcement product, it is far from perfect and has quite a lot of issues. First of, there is surprisingly no way to share anything other than images and text : no video, audio or contacts atleast, at the moment. Secondly there is no way to send a audio/video message, which is a mundane feature in pretty much every application. Last but not the least, there no way to check if someone is online or not outside a conversation. So if you want to ping your crush when she is just online, Hangout may just make it difficult to see her online presence.
UPDATE : Hangouts drains way more battery than what we consider “normal” for a messaging app. I noticed Hangouts to be consuming significantly more battery than Whatsapp even with pure text chats. Arpit witnessed around 40% battery drop on his HTC One X after a video call lasting around for 30 mins which is just plain bad for an IM client. Probably Google will fix this major bane in future updates.
Google Hangouts is a giant first step in the holy direction of a unified Messaging platform and easily sets the bar even higher for some of the finest app interfaces. However, functionality wise, still there is a lot missing, which could be easily expected in upcoming iterations. Happy Hangouts!