In this Google Hangouts review for iPhone and iPad I'll go over how I use the app for free calling and messaging on my Apple devices and computer and how it compares to some other free calling and messaging apps.
Google Hangouts is a free messaging service that replaced Google Talk (aka gchat) and integrated some other Google communication services in 2013. Hangouts supports instant messaging, video calls with up to 10 participants, and free calls to US numbers on some platforms. Hangouts can be accessed on the mobile app for iPhone/iPad and Android or on computers through the Gmail or Google+ websites. There is also a Chrome extension for computers that adds some functionality.
Hangouts review: messaging and video calling
Hangouts is very useful and it is one of my core apps. Since Gmail is so popular, several of my contacts have access to Hangouts, although not all of them use it. It's great for messaging with friends. Conversations can be started on one device and picked up on another. I've found the syncing between devices to work well, with just a few seconds of lag from time to time. It's easy to add pictures or emoticons to a message thread, or to add additional people to the conversation. With the Chrome extension I'm alerted to incoming messages on my laptop even when I don't have Gmail or Google+ open.
I have found Hangouts to be a satisfactory video calling app, although I don't video chat extensively. I usually get better picture quality on Apple's FaceTime. FaceTime isn't available on Android devices or non-Apple computers though.
Hangouts review: free calls to phone numbers
On iPhones, iPads, and computers Hangouts supports free calling to US and Canadian phone numbers. (You can call additional countries for a fee.) If you have a Google Voice number you can also set Hangouts to ring for incoming calls to your Google Voice number. With the Chrome extension mentioned above your laptop will ring for incoming calls too. These free calls operate over your cellular or wifi data connection, and won't use your plan's voice minutes. I use these features to use my iPad as a phone.
The free calling is simple to set up and use, and works very well. The voice quality is better than other free calling apps I've used, and the app is very stable. I never miss calls because the app crashed in the background or a push notification failed to go through. However, it's very light on options. There is no way to set favorites to access common contacts, the call history erases very quickly, and the caller ID only shows the number of an incoming call even if the caller is in your contacts. The free calling on the iPhone and iPad app is a relatively new feature, so hopefully it will get better with new versions. Currently I use the Google Voice app and web interface to text and get my voicemails. If that gets integrated into Hangouts it would be phenomenal.
Unfortunately, Android users don't get free calling through Hangouts, but there are several other options for them to make free calls.
Google Hangouts review wrap-up
Hangouts is one of my favorite free apps. I'm a Google Voice user and rely on Hangouts to make and receive free calls. I also use it as my primary free messaging app. This way I don't have to pay for a voice or texting plan on my smartphone and I get my messages on all of my devices. It's a very reliable way to communicate with people, regardless of whether they have Apple or Android devices, and regardless of whether they have a Windows or Mac computer. I get incoming messages on my iPad, Android phone, and laptop, and Hangouts rings for incoming calls on my iPad and laptop.
For these reasons Hangouts is my number one cross-platform messaging and communication app. I use it daily and hope it continues to get better as Google integrates more Google Voice features into Hangouts and improves the service even more.