For any business to be successful it's going to have to rely on effective communication, and with that in mind G Suite comes with a variety of Google Hangouts tools included – the traditional chat box in Gmail as well as variations on Hangouts designed to more directly compete with Slack and Skype.
Those two newer tools are Hangouts Meet for video calls and Hangouts Chat for group discussions. While Google's various messaging apps and services remain a confusing mess in terms of what the overall strategy is supposed to be, Hangouts remains the best chat app that Google has ever put together – and since the revival of Android Messages, it looks to be one that's going to be mainly pushed towards business users in the future.
Google Hangouts for G Suite: Hangouts Chat
Let's start with Hangouts Chat, which builds on the Hangouts you might be familiar with from Google's consumer products. It's very much designed to compete with the product that's significantly changed company messaging over the last few years – Slack – but it only launched earlier this year, and that shows in the rather rudimentary design and feature set that's on offer.
It's perfectly adequate, visually, and fits in with the modern Material Design used by all of Google's flagship apps these days. The screen lets you focus on rooms (which are essentially group chats) or people (one-to-one direct messages), and you can access recent conversations in both through the left-hand navigation bar.
The service integrates tightly with the other parts of G Suite, so you can easily add files from Drive or set up a video call in Hangouts Meet, and everything is kept conveniently in the same window. A little more customization over the layout and configuration of Hangouts Chat wouldn't go amiss, but Google loves its simplicity, and it's certainly not difficult to jump between rooms and chats.
The usual Google search bar sits at the top, helping you to jump to rooms, people, conversations and files quickly, and to some extent making up for the rather sparse interface. As in most Google apps, the idea is to search for whatever you're after rather than spend time in extra menus or screens.
We found the various bots less intuitive to use, but once you've got the hang of them, they can be handy – the Google Drive one pings you with updates about your files for example, while the Trello one keeps you in the loop with connected Trello boards. There's even a bot for Giphy. The selection is fairly limited right now, but we'd expect this to improve (you can code your own bots, if needed).
Google Hangouts for G Suite: Hangouts Meet
Then we've got Hangouts Meet, which is where video conferencing happens. Again, all rather basic in terms of design, but it works well enough: launch a video chat and you get a code that other Meet users can input to join the conversation, as well as a phone number than non-G Suite users can use to call in from a regular phone line. You can even connect from other services like Skype for Business.
Whatever Google does in the background seems to be working, because we noticed no problems in terms of the stability or quality of our connections while using Meet. The service doesn't have many features to speak of, but that does give it the advantage of being clutter-free and easy to get around – after all, you want to be able to focus on the video chatting above everything else.
A couple of useful features are worth mentioning. First, tight integration with other G Suite apps, so you can quickly (for example) organize a video call based on an event saved in Google Calendar. Second, the ability to share your screen with the other people in the conversation, which works well and of course is very handy for business users in all kinds of different scenarios.
In its marketing materials Google talks about a "frictionless" experience with Hangouts Meet, and that's exactly what it feels like: video conferencing that just works without any complications around people using different platforms (the mobile apps for iOS and Android are also very well polished), or not being able to find the mute button, or having problems joining a video chat late.
Finally, the old-school Hangouts instant messenger still lives on, in the corner of Gmail. Quite how this will fit in with Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet in the future remains to be seen (so far messages sent through this channel seem to be kept separate), but for now you can still use it to message other people in your organization and even outside (as long as the feature is enabled in the admin settings).
Google Hangouts for G Suite: pricing and verdict
All the variations of Google Hangouts are bundled with G Suite, available on three different plans: Basic ($5/£3.30 per user per month), Business ($10/£6.60 per user per month), and Enterprise ($25/£20 per user per month). You get all the Meet and Chats functionality on all these plans (the differences are more to do with user storage space and advanced data processing features).
These two tools under the Hangouts umbrella certainly have everything that business users could want in a messaging service: File transfers, group video chats, access from multiple devices, integration with various third-party services, and so on. Throughout, you'll find Google's love of white space and simplicity evident in the interface, and everything is simple to move around.
Your mileage may vary, but as far as Hangouts Chat goes we prefer the way Slack handles threads inside rooms (or channels in Slack parlance), and the clear and consistent way it manages channels and direct messages. Hashtag and tagging support looks much better in Slack too, though admittedly Chat is playing catch up and may have the opportunity to fix some of these problems in the future.
Well, unless you really depend on seamless integration with other G Suite components, it's unlikely that you're going to be jumping ship to Hangouts Chat from Slack anytime soon, unless you're looking to save money by only paying for one package of tools. Similarly Hangouts Meet is solid enough, but not necessarily light years ahead of something like Skype, which you may already be comfortable with.
There's no doubt that the Hangouts components of G Suite are well built, reliable to use, and with pretty much all the features you're likely to need. Unlike other parts of G Suite though, they don't stand out as being substantially different from what the competition offers. Google has room for improvement here.
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