Posted June 23, 2013 by Tom Litchfield in Productivity

Google Hangouts better than Skype? Not so fast…

Google Hangouts is fast becoming an alternative, perhaps even a replacement for Skype. I’ve read many recent articles proclaiming Hangouts as the superior communications platform, but I’m not buying it.

Hangouts vs. Skype

Both have similar basic features, like chat, video calls, screen sharing and so on. But there are a few unique features in Hangouts that folks are excited about:

  • Hangouts allows video chat with up to 10 (9 friends plus yourself), while Skype charges for more than 2 people on a call.
  • Hangouts has built in Google apps like Google Docs and YouTube live stream.
  • Hangouts can stream live via the “On Air” feature. Viewers can watch a Hangout live on YouTube, great for your own “TV” show or other live broadcast.

Hangouts does have some very cool features, and what makes them sweeter is that they are free. For basic chat and one-on-one video calls, I don’t think either one is hugely better than the other in this area. I end up using both for various reasons.

There are some people I need to talk to who are used to Skype and don’t want to use Hangouts. Then there are frequent times Skype’s voice or video quality is poor. Sometimes to get through a meeting we move from Skype to Hangouts.

Google Hangouts group conference example screen

However, when it comes to my phone and tablets the Skype app is better.

The Google Hangouts App

The Hangouts app rolled out last month and replaced the Google Talk app. When I first used the Hangouts app, I thought it was very nice, bringing some of the desktop features to my mobile devices. Then while using it one day I couldn’t figure out how to set my status. Turns out the app doesn’t let you do that. Why the heck would they leave out such a basic feature? Epic fail.

I also noticed people were less responsive to my messages using the new app. Nothing new people are busy, until I learned Hangout doesn’t show my contacts offline. So like an idiot, I’m trying to have a conversation with friends and colleagues when they were not even there. Another fail.

The decision by Google developers not to include these features leaves me scratching my head. Needless to say, the Skype app currently and has always had these basic features missing from Hangouts. And Skype has a few other things Google Hangouts doesn’t.

Skype has “rooms” you can jump in any time after being invited. They are like ongoing discussion groups. On Hangouts you can have a group chat but it doesn’t quite work the same, when everyone leaves the chat “room” it’s gone. Skype rooms stay open until the organizer closes it, so they can go on for weeks and months. I have not figured out how to do the same on Hangouts and don’t even know if it will support such behavior. If anyone reading this knows that Hangouts has the same feature, please share how to make it work.

Rooms may not seem like a major feature, but Skype rooms have become an important networking venue where many agreements and big deals happen every day. Skype is how business gets done these days, and I don’t see a lot of old-timers jumping on to Hangouts any time soon.

Skype also allows you to make calls to phone numbers from anywhere in the world (per subscription). Oh, but you say there’s Google Voice, which is expected to be integrated with Hangouts. If you live outside the U.S. you’re out of luck with Voice; it’s only available to people in the states. Skype doesn’t have this restriction, another point for Skype.

So is Google Hangouts better than Skype? Right now I have to say no way Jose. But I’ll probably and up using both. Hangouts can make a good backup in case the Skype network is overloaded and quality drops. I uninstalled the Hangouts app from my mobile devices but I still have Google Talk.

If you’re not happy with the Hangouts app it’s possible to go back to Talk, even though it’s not listed in Google Play anymore.

Here’s what I did that worked for devices: I uninstalled Google Hangouts using the Google Play app. After the app uninstalled, the Hangouts icon was gone, replaced by the old Talk icon. Talk works just like it did before!

Tom Litchfield

is generally fascinated with mobile and internet technologies, and how they can help people and organizations. He’s always on the lookout for new technology that solves real problems.