(Pocket-lint) - Google has had a wide range of video and chat solutions over the years, many discontinued and many overlapping in their offering.
As of recent changes, most of these offerings now fall under the Google Meet umbrella. But, during the transition, things aren't as clear-cut as we'd like. So, to help give some clarity, we're walking you through the differences to help you decide which app to use, and how the services came to sit as they do now.
Google Meet had a name change in the last couple of years, previously known as Google Hangouts Meet. It started life as the enterprise 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 up to 100 callers with no time limit. 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 for up to 100 participants, but there's support for up to 500 participants or 100,000 viewers on a live stream at the top Enterprise level.
Google has been adding functions to Google Meet to make it more consumer-friendly, adding controls, a gallery view, and 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.
After the merge between Google Duo and Meet, the existing iOS and Android app has been renamed to Google Meet (original). It still functions as before, but those wanting to benefit from all of Duo's additional features will need to transition to the new Google Meet app. Thankfully, chat history and contacts will still remain in place in the new app.
Google Meet is free to all Google Account holders at an entry position.
Google Meet is available to Google Workspace users offering longer meetings and more features, and the price you'll pay depends on your Workspace edition.
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, although personal Google account users will still see Hangouts in Gmail. The service can be accessed at hangouts.google.com.
Hangouts is due to close soon - many Workspace users have transitioned away from the service (using to use Chat instead), with private users getting a notification that it will be replaced by Google Chat soon. It's still around however 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 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 some 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 dialer 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 had a much more personal feel to it than Hangouts or Meet, and gained some popularity as an alternative to WhatsApp video calling.
At the start of June 2022, Google announced that it was merging Duo with Google Meet. Prior to this, the two video-calling apps were basically in competition with each other, so it made sense to bring them together in this way.
In early August 2022, the merge began. The Duo app has been rebranded as Google Meet, whereas the Google Meet app is still active, and is now called Google Meet (original).
All of Duo's features stayed the same, but all of Meet's features have been added to the app, along with the rebrand. The original Meet, on the other hand, has not had all of Duo's features added and is expected to be depreciated at some point in the future.
Google Duo let you place voice or video calls to contacts via phone numbers or email addresses. You could leave video messages for those who can't answer those calls, which differentiated it from Hangouts and Meets.
There was 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 supported AR functions for callers to use.
Duo also had a feature called Knock Knock, which is where your video is shown to the person you are calling when the phone is ringing. Much like having someone at your door.
Now, all of these features can be found in the Google Meet app, and those with Duo installed will notice the app's name change to Google Meet in the near future (if not already).
Google Duo was available in a browser, and in Android and iOS apps. It's available on the same platforms but has been rebranded as Google Meet.
Google Duo was free, you just needed a Google account.
Which is the best for you?
Although Google has a habit of making things a little more confusing than they need to be, the recent moves to bring more features under the Google Meet umbrella simplifies things significantly. For almost all of your video chat requirements, Meet is your one-stop shop.
Following these changes, the only true hold-out from Google Meet's blanket is Google Chat. However, this service is only available for Workspace users, designed for team-based messaging, and not for consumer use. After Google made Meet available to all, it became a much better option than using Hangouts.
Hangouts still survives, but only just. 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. While there's no confirmed date for the closure of Hangouts, we suspect it will happen during 2022.