(Pocket-lint) - Google has had a wide range of video and chat solutions over the years, many discontinued and many overlapping in their offering.
The current selection is Google Meet, Google Hangouts and Google Duo. But which app should you be using and what do they each offer? We're walking you through the differences to help you decide.
Google Meet has had a name change, previously known as Google Hangouts Meet. It started life as the enterprise group video conferencing solution that Google offered. It is available to all Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) users, i.e., those businesses or schools that pay for Google services for their users. It is, essentially, Google's version of Zoom, coming in three tiers - Google Meet, Google Workspace Essentials and Google Workspace Enterprise.
However, Google made Google Meet available to anyone with a Google account, so it's free to the public, offering update 100 callers with no time limit, up until 28 June 2021. This makes Google Meet much more widely available. You can access it on meet.google.com.
Google Meet sits alongside Google Chat as part of the communication solution designed for businesses, with Google Chat being an alternative to a service like Slack. Understanding Google Meet and Google Chat is easier when you consider the previous names - Google Hangouts Meet and Google Hangouts Chat. Essentially, they are grown-up versions of Google Hangouts, which is the consumer solution. You can access Chat on chat.google.com.
Recently, Google Meet was integrated into Gmail, so you can access the service directly through the mail app.
Google Meet is all about video conferencing on the large scale. At a free level you get support up to 100 participants, but there's support for up to 250 participants or 100,000 viewers on a livestream at the top Enterprise level.
Google has been adding functions to Google Meet to make it more consumer friendly, adding controls, a gallery view, more advanced screen sharing options, including individual Chrome tabs - although some of these controls aren't as granular as Zoom when it comes to participant control and screen sharing.
Google pushes the security angle, however, saying that it's encrypted in transmission as well as encrypted when saved on Google Drive. It supports video up to 720p and anyone with a Google account can join a Google Meet.
Google Meet runs in a browser with no need for plug-ins or desktop apps. There are apps for Android and iOS devices. Google says that running in common browsers makes it more secure.
Until 28 June 2021, Google Meet is free to all Google Account holders.
Google Meet is available to Google Workspace users, starting a £4.14/$6 a month per user for Business Starter, £8.28/$12 a month for Business Standard or £13.80/$18 a month for Buisness Plus, with the Enterprise tier priced on an individual basis.
Google Hangouts was announced in 2013, spinning out of Google+. It was integrated into Gmail and other Google applications as a communication tool, joined by Google Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat, for Workspace customers, which now run without the Hangouts in the name, suggesting that Hangouts will soon be phased out. The service can be accessed at hangouts.google.com.
Talk of Google transitioning Google Hangouts into something else have been around for several years, with plenty of talk about Hangouts closing in 2020 to make way for the rise of other consumer solutions. It's still around however, running as a separate app, and still referenced as Hangouts in the Gmail browser page, even for Workspace customers. That's what Hangouts is and remains - a free video and chat tool for Google account holders, integrated into Gmail and allowing desktop calling with or without video.
While Hangouts was once being positioned as an SMS conversation tool, the rise of Messenger - with support for RCS - has seen this emerge as Google's natural place for "chat", but Hangouts still works as a group chat solution for many people.
The appeal of Hangouts mainly came from its easy integration into other Google products and persistent visibility within Gmail, as well as access to history synced across devices meaning that Hangouts can give you synced conversations across a number of devices or platforms.
It supports video calling for up to 10 people for personal users, phone calling via the Hangouts dialler app and messaging for up to 150 users, all of which can be accessed either through a browser or apps on mobile devices. Like Apple's FaceTime, users can be contacted using Hangouts via an email address.
Hangouts is available through a browser and there are apps for Android and iOS.
Google Hangouts is free, all you need is a Google account to sign in.
Google Duo was announced in 2016 as an equivalent to Apple's FaceTime, pushed as a person-to-person video calling app. It has a much more personal feel to it than Hangouts or Meet. You can access Duo on duo.google.com.
Google Duo has been gaining popularity as a universal video calling app - supported on both Android and iOS devices (as well as through browsers) - making it an ideal solution for Android to iPhone video calls in the place of FaceTime, although WhatsApp video calling is increasingly popular.
Google Duo will let you place voice or video calls to contacts via phone numbers or email addresses. You can leave video messages for those who can't answer those calls, which makes it very different to Hangouts and Meets. There's no support for text messaging or screen sharing like you get in Meet.
Although it's principally designed for person-to-person calling, Duo will support groups up to 12 people. There's a low light mode that will boost your video using AI and Google has announced new video codecs to improve the quality of Duo video calls. It also supports AR functions for callers to use.
Duo also has a feature called Knock Knock, which is where your video is shown to the person you are calling when the phone is ringing. It's like having someone at your door.
Google Duo is available in a browser, and in Android and iOS apps.
Google Duo is free, you just need a Google account.
Which is the best for you?
Although Google appears to have lots of overlapping products, it's actually very simple when you take a step back. If you want to video call friends from your phone, then Google Duo is the way to do it. It's great for personal communication and fun to use with support for small groups. Duo goes hand-in-hand with Messenger, the consumer chat solution supporting both SMS and RCS.
For larger groups, Google Meet is more sophisticated than Hangouts and those Google Workspace users will now find that Meet has replaced Hangouts in things like Gmail. Although Meet isn't quite as adept as Zoom, it's evolving quickly. Google Chat is available for Workspace users for team-based messaging, but isn't designed for consumer use. With Google making Meet available to all from May 2020, it's a much better option than using Hangouts.
Hangouts survives as an odd overlap in the middle. With the name dropped from Meet and Chat, Hangouts is now just the preserve of non-Workspace users, i.e., those with a Google account. It's still able to make group video calls and group chats from one app, but the experience isn't as refined as either other solution. It really does feel as though Hangouts has had its day and users will be streamlined into the other two services at some point in the future.