I’ve been a loyal Skyper for years. But Google+ Hangouts is slowly winning me over, thanks largely to the latest Hangouts iOS update.
Skype is still a great service, but its limitations are becoming more obvious. Here are three advantages Hangouts has over Skype.
1. Free multi-party video chat. Want to video chat with multiple people simultaneously? You can do that on Skype, but you need a premium Skype account, which costs $10 a month. On Google+ Hangouts, no charge.
2. Free multi-party screen sharing. The same is true with group screen sharing. You can’t do it without a premium Skype account; Google+ Hangouts gives you the feature gratis.
3. Free calls to phone lines. Another thing I love about Google+ Hangouts: You can call any cell phone or landline in the United States or Canada for free. With Skype, you need to buy Skype Credit or have a monthly plan. ($3 in the United States.)
Google just caught up to Skype and the other popular messaging apps with its latest Hangouts iOS update. The app was revamped to take better advantage of the iPad’s larger screen, with the addition of picture-in-picture video calls, for example. I also appreciate how you can quickly start a new video chat just by swiping from right to left on the video icon.
In some respects, the iOS app is also playing catch-up with the Google+ Hangouts Android app. Using the Android app, for instance, you’ve been able to send a Google Map of your location to others in a Hangout. That feature was just added to the iOS version. The iOS version also just got emoticons.
Another new iOS feature I like: You can record and send short video messages (up to 10 seconds) to Google contacts. The feature is slightly buried, however. To record the video message, tap to open a Google contact, then click the paper clip icon next to “Send a message.” Choose the camera icon. Make sure the front-facing camera is on and hold down the shutter button for the duration of your video. When you’re done, tap the paper airplane icon to send it. (Skype also lets you send video messages for free.)
Google+ Hangouts isn’t going to float everyone’s boat, of course. The people you chat with need to be in your Google+ circles, which means you both need a Google+ account. That’s not a big deal, though; the same can be said for Skype and other messaging apps. Also, you can’t see a contact’s current status as you can with Skype or voice/text messaging app Talkatone (for Android and iOS), among others.
Skype and Google+ Hangouts are just two of the ever-growing assortment of messaging apps. The WhatsApp Messenger app for Android and iOS, which Facebook just bought for a gazillion dollars, will be adding free voice calls to its toolbox sometime this spring. LINE, which is big in Japan, offers free voice and video calls. And imo just added video and voice calls to its iOS app.
If you’re a Gmail user, I recommend giving Hangouts a try. Perfect it’s not, but it is compelling — especially if you want to communicate with multiple people at once.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.