That Google I/O hangover can be a real killer, but there are still untold multitudes of apps being added to Google Play all the time. This is no time to take a break! It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we bring you the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store.
This week we look at Google's new chat service, check out a great tower defense game, and experience a classic.
Google Talk has been a part of Android since its inception, but it’s was largely ignored as redesigns have progressed. And all this despite being a really useful service. As Google I/O approached, we all expected the messaging unification known internally as Babel to be announced, but it turns out to unify very little. Hangouts is Google’s new messaging brand, and it replaces Talk. Let’s take a look at how it works.
Hangouts is basically a replacement for Google Talk and G+ Messenger. To be fair, Google never really said Hangouts was supposed to be unifying messaging on Android -- everyone just really hoped it would. There is no SMS functionality like Apple has in its messaging app, and Google Voice SMS is also excluded. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but I sincerely hope this functionality can be added soon.
As it stands, Hangouts pulls in your Google contacts from Talk, as well as all your Google+ circles and friends. By far my biggest issue with Hangouts right now is that the contact list ends up a bit of a jumbled mess. People with multiple addresses tend to show up more than once (despite trying to merge contacts) and the large contact shortcuts at the top of the app are not configurable. This decision baffles me.
Hangouts uses a sliding UI, which Google seems quite fond of lately. It has a very Holo feel, but I was initially confused about how to get back to the contact list from conversations. Sometimes you can slide back over to it, but other times you need to tap the ‘+’ button in the action bar to get there.
Hangouts includes regular 1-to-1 conversations, group messaging, and video hangouts. It’s good that we finally have all these functions in one place. Android has had video calls built in for some time, for instance, but no one used it because the functionality was buried in the Talk app. Now it’s all Hangouts video chat, which is much easier and more consistent with Google’s services.
One thing that Hangouts gets very right is the read-receipt and typing status in text conversations. Small avatars of your friends float down the side of the conversation view to show you how far they’ve read. This is extremely well-done, as is the bouncing dot animation to let you know when someone is typing.
Also along for the ride in Hangouts is emoji and image support. Yes, you can finally send pictures through chat instead of trusting MMS. This might actually be my favorite feature, because I suspect I’ll use it a lot. The emoji not so much, but I’m sure some folks will be very into it.
The Hangouts app will replace Talk, and that comes with a few sacrifices. Status messages are gone, as is the Away/Screen-off state. You’re either online, or not online. Any apps you had that plugged into Talk will more than likely stop working, as well. Overall, Hangouts is a good upgrade once you cozy up to it... I’m slowly coming around. There has been some trouble getting certain devices updated through Google Play, but all should be well now.