Software

How to decide if you should stick with Hangouts or switch to the new Google Voice

The new Google Voice looks better and is easier to use. But if you rely on Google Voice in Hangouts should you switch?

Illustration of Google Voice icon
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

In January 2017, Google updated Google Voice on the web, Android, and iOS after years of minimal public changes. The update:

  • Embraced Material Design elements on all three platforms, to provide a simpler, more streamlined user experience
  • Added group and photo MMS capabilities
  • Offered 3D touch support for the iPhone, with options to place a call, send a message, or search within Google Voice
  • Included a new app built for the iPad.

The redesign places the emphasis of the app solidly on messages, calls, and voicemail. Those three options feature prominently on the web, Android, and iOS, with a dialing pad also added as a fourth option in the mobile apps.

Screenshot of 3D Touch Google Voice app features: Search, Call, Message.

The updated Google Voice app offers 3D Touch support on the iPhone.

All the standard features of Google Voice remain, including the ability for an incoming call to ring on multiple phones (or devices), if you choose. The service still provides text transcriptions of voicemails, and lets you receive both the audio recording and text in an email. And, you can still screen calls by requiring a caller to state their name, so you can choose to either take the call or send it to voicemail after you hear what they say.

Screenshot showing transcription of Google Voice voicemail message

Many core Google Voice features, such as voice transcription, remain — and are easier to use as a result of the redesign. (Android screenshot)

The new Google Voice app makes some things simpler. Now there's a single "Filter Spam" setting. Turn it on to help block spam calls, messages, and voicemail. The three-dot menu allows you to block a caller, mark a number as spam, and archive or delete a conversation. In the mobile apps, there's also a "Do not disturb" option, which sends all calls to voicemail when selected.

More menu options: Call block, Spam, Archive, or Delete

The 'More" menu on the web, Android, and iOS offers call block, mark as spam, and conversation archive and delete options. (Chrome OS screenshot)

But, some features of "Legacy Google Voice," as the menu item calls it, aren't yet found in the new apps. Most notably, Wi-Fi calling isn't yet in the app. When I place an outbound call on my Chromebook, I see a prompt that asks me to place the call either via my phone or Hangouts. A similar thing occurs on my iPad: The app rings my phone, rather than just placing the call over Wi-Fi. You also can't yet star a conversation, which some people used to mark and process messages.

Screenshots showing you need a phone or Hangouts to place calls.

On a WiFi-only iPad (left), Google Voice relies on a phone to place calls, and on Chrome OS (right) the system uses either Hangouts or your phone.

If you've been using Google Voice integrated with Hangouts, you have options. You can choose to disconnect the two, which would mean incoming calls now go to the Google Voice app, with Hangouts relegated to handling messages, voice, or video calls to other Hangouts users.

Most Hangouts users who rely on integrated Google Voice should continue to do so. On Chrome OS, you'll need Hangouts (or your phone) to place an outbound call anyway.

On iOS, Hangouts still supports calls placed over Wi-Fi, so you can place a call in Hangouts from your Google Voice number on a WiFi-only iPad. Hangouts also allows you to send your location as long as you're at a Google-recognized place. Google Voice only supports sending a photo.

The refresh does nothing to clarify the direction of Google's messaging strategy. While the company has hinted that the future role of Hangouts is in the enterprise, the current capabilities of apps display overlapping features:

  • Hangouts offers messaging, calls, and video calls
  • Google Voice offers messaging and calls
  • You can configure settings to use Google Voice features within Hangouts
  • Google Duo offers video calls
  • Google Allo offers messaging, but not SMS or MMS
  • On Android, there's Messenger, which offers SMS and MMS

If you want to select an app from Google for voice communications, the best option will depend on your needs. If you make calls mostly from your smartphone—and don't need video-conferencing—then the new Google Voice app will likely work well for you. But, if you already use Hangouts and use multiple devices or make video-calls, stick with Hangouts with integrated Google Voice. And, if you're an enterprise looking for a phone system that integrates with G Suite, look at a third-party solution like Dialpad or RingCentral.

If you've tried the new Google Voice app on Android, iOS, or the web, let me know what you think of it in the comments or on Twitter. And what do you think the app indicates about the future of calling services from Google?

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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