How to Use Google Hangouts

Now that you’ve downloaded and installed Google Hangouts, it’s time to show you what it can do!  This lesson will go through the basics of how to use Google Hangouts, including adding contacts to your address book; getting in touch with a contact through text messages, phone calls, or video conferences; and calling standard phone numbers from Google Hangouts.

Note that, for the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using the Google Hangouts desktop application.  However, using it on your mobile device, browser, or Gmail account shouldn’t be terribly different.

How to sign into Google Hangouts

  1. Find the Google Hangouts program and double-click on it to open it. (If you are using it on your mobile device, it may just be called Hangouts; tap it once to open it.)  It may be helpful if you click and drag the Google Hangouts program to your desktop, in order to create a shortcut to it so that you can access it easily (like as shown here).

    How to launch the Google Hangouts desktop client

  2. You will be prompted to sign into your Google account.  Click the Sign In button, and on the screen that appears, click in the box marked “Enter Your Email” and type in the email address that you used to sign up for your Google account.  If you are able to, click in the box labelled “Password” and type in the password that you chose to protect your Google account with.  (If you aren’t, just click Next after entering your email address, and then do this.)  Then click Sign In.

    How to sign into Google Hangouts

    If you don’t have a Google account, click Create Account and follow our How to Create a Google Drive Account tutorial from step 2 onward.  Then come back and complete this step.

    (NOTE: if you are using Google Hangouts on a mobile device — especially one running the Google Android operating system — you may have already linked your Google account to your device, and so you may already be logged in.  If that’s the case, then you may just have to tap the account name to select it, or even just skip this step altogether.)

Okay!  If you go back to the Google Hangouts desktop app, it should be ready for you to use.

How to add contacts to Google Hangouts

If you’re going to use Google Hangouts to get in touch with someone, you’re going to have to have people whom you know to get in touch with in the first place, right?

To add a contact to Google Hangouts, click the People menu, and then click the “+” sign.  Then, type in the person’s name or email address, and when they appear as a search result, click Invite (or just click on their name).  Then, write an invitation for them to chat with you, and click Send Invite.

If you’re using a mobile device, you may already have a number of contacts in Google Hangouts that have been imported from your list of contacts in your Google account.  The process for adding new contacts differs slightly, too.  We’ll make note of the changes in our walkthrough below.

  1. Start by clicking on the People menu.  (If you’re on a mobile device, you may need to tap the main menu icon — which will be three bars or a gear — and then tap Contacts.)  Then, click on the “+” icon (you may not need to do this on your mobile device).

    How to add a new contact to Google Hangouts

  2. Click in the box beside the magnifying glass labelled “Search for People” and type in the name or email address of the person whom you wish to add as a contact on Google Hangouts.  A list of suggestions will appear below, starting with people whom you may already have as contacts in your Google account (on mobile devices, you may have to tap Search on Google Plus to see search results who aren’t on your contact list).

    How to search for a contact to add to Google Hangouts

    If the person has Invite (or, on mobile devices, does NOT have “On Hangouts”) beside their name, it means that they are not currently set up to use Google Hangouts. Click Invite to begin writing them an invitation to use Google Hangouts so that you can get in touch with them.  (On mobile devices, simply tap the person’s name, then tap Hangouts Message, and then tap Invite.  You can skip the next step.)

  3. Click in the text box that appears and write a personal greeting to the person whom you wish to chat with on Google Hangouts.  Then click Send Invite.

    How to invite a person to be a Google Hangouts contact

How to chat through text messages on Google Hangouts

To chat with someone on Google Hangouts through text messages, click the Conversations menu, and then tap the contact whom you wish to chat with.  Invite them to chat (if you haven’t already), and when they accept your invitation, you can send them text messages, emoticons, pictures, videos, drawings, and more!

Depending on whether you’re using the Google Hangouts Desktop app or the app for your mobile device, certain processes may be easier or harder, and some functions may or may not be available.  We’ll explain more in our full instructions set below.

  1. Click the Conversations menu, and then click on the contact with whom you wish to have a conversation.

    How to start a Google Hangouts conversation

    If you’re on a mobile device, instead tap the “+” icon on the main screen, and then tap New Conversation.  Then tap the name of the contact whom you wish to text message.

  2. Like when adding a contact, you can type in an introductory message to the person, and then click Send Invite to invite them to chat.

    How to invite a Google Hangouts contact to a conversation

    For some contacts, you won’t have to do this, as they will have their settings adjusted so that you can send them messages right away without needing an invitation.  This is also usually the case when using Google Hangouts on mobile devices.

  3. When the other person accepts your invitation to chat, you will see the interface below.  In the main window will be the messages that you have exchanged with your contact, and how long ago they were sent.  Messages from you will appear on the right, and messages from your contact(s) will appear on the left.

    How to send text messages over Google Hangouts

    Click in the box labelled “Send a Message” and type in what you want to say to the person.  Then press the “Enter” key on your keyboard (or tap the paper airplane icon on mobile devices).

    You can also click the smiley face icon to select a small emotional picture to send as a message.  Click the category of emoticons that you wish to use, and then click on an emoticon to add it to your message.

    If you have not typed anything in your message yet, you can click the pencil icon to create a drawing and send it as a message.  You can select the size, opacity, shape, and colour of your brush; you can also move your drawing around, undo or redo your last action, or upload a photo that you can draw on top of.  When you’re done, click Send.

    By the same token, if your message area is blank, you can also click the mountain icon to send a picture as a message.  You can upload one from your computer or from your Google account, or use your webcam (if you have one, or one is built into your computer) to take a picture (on mobile devices, tap the camera icon to do this).  You can also search for videos on YouTube (which is owned by Google) to add to the conversation.  When you find one, click on it, and then click Select.

    (Note that on mobile device, you cannot send drawings to your contacts, but you can send your current location to them by tapping the crosshairs icon, if your device has its GPS functions enabled.)

How to start a video chat with a contact on Google Hangouts

Another cool thing that you can do for free over Google Hangouts is have a face-to-face video chat over the Internet, using the camera attached to (or built into) your computer or mobile device.

To have a video chat with someone on Google Hangouts, click the Conversations menu, and then click on the name of the contact whom you wish to call.  Then click the camcorder icon.  While in the video call, you can mute or unmute your microphone, invite other people to the call, share your computer screen, and more!

There are quite a few different functions within a video call on Google Hangouts, so we’ll break them down below.

  1. Click the Conversations menu (if you’re using the Google Hangouts desktop app), and then click on the name of the contact to whom you wish to place a video call.  (If you’re using the desktop app and haven’t send the person an invite to chat already, do so, and wait for them to accept it.)

    How to select a Google Hangouts contact to have a video call with

    (NOTE: If you’re on a mobile device and wish to start a video call with someone whom you have not started a chat with yet, tap the “+” icon on the main screen, tap New Video Call, and then tap the name of the contact whom you wish to call.  Then skip the next step.)

  2. In the top-right corner of the chat window, click the camcorder icon to start a video call with that person.  (If you’re using the Google Hangouts desktop app, this will open your Google Chrome web browser, and you may need to log into your Google account again.)

    How to start a video call in Google Hangouts

  3. Once the video call has started, you can click the microphone icon to mute or unmute your microphone, the camcorder icon to turn your camera (if you have one) on or off, or the red telephone icon to hang up on the call.  You can also click the two windows in the bottom-right corner to switch between viewing your own camera and viewing your contact’s camera.

    How to use the Google Hangouts video call interface

    At the top of the screen, you can click the Invite icon to invite another person to this video call; type in their name or email address, then click on them in the list that appears, and then click Invite

    If you click the Settings icon, you can set up how Google Hangouts video calls work.  This can include adjusting the camera, microphone, and speakers that you’re using, or choosing how good the video quality of your calls is (lowering it may be useful if your computer or device doesn’t have a high-resolution screen, or you’re trying to conserve the amount of data that you’re sending or receiving over the Internet if you have a data cap).

    Finally, you can click the More Options icon if you wish to share your desktop screen with your contact as the call goes on, or make the video for the call take up your entire screen.

How to place a phone call with Google Hangouts

You can place phone calls through Google Hangouts, too!  Note that unless you’re calling within (most of) the United States or Canada, this is the one part of Google Hangouts that will cost you money.  We’ll also show you how to get calling credit through Google Hangouts in the full instructions.

Also note that, if you’re on a mobile device that uses the Google Android operating system, you will need to download and install a separate program called “Hangouts Dialer” to place phone calls using Google Hangouts.  If you return to our How to Download and Install Google Hangouts tutorial, you should see how to find this program; the download and installation process is exactly the same, as well.  The program itself works very similarly to the process below.

To place a phone call in Google Hangouts, click the Voice menu, and then type in the name or number of the person whom you wish to call.  Then click on their name in the menu that appears, or click Call.  During the call, you can mute or unmute your microphone, change settings, and use the dialpad if you need it.

If you are calling a number that costs money, you will need to add Google Voice calling credit before dialing the number.  Again, our walkthrough below will provide a link explaining how you can do that.

  1. Start by clicking the Voice menu in the bottom-left corner.  Then, turn your attention to the right-hand screen.

    How to start a phone call in Google Hangouts

  2. Click the country flag to select the country code that you will use to make the call.  (You don’t need to enter this number as part of a phone number when you search.)  Next, click in the box labelled “Name or Phone Number” and type in the phone number that you wish to call, or the name of a contact with an available phone number whom you wish to call.  Then click Call — or click on the name of the person whom you wish to call — to start the phone call. 

    How to place a phone call to a contact or number in Google Hangouts

    (NOTE #1: When using the Hangouts Dialer, if you wish to call a number not registered to one of your contacts, tap the Dialpad icon, type in the number that you wish to call, and then click Call.)

    (NOTE #2: If this is the first time that you have placed a phone call using Google Hangouts, you may need to click I Accept to accept the terms of using Google Voice, the service that governs phone calls over Google Hangouts.)

    One more thing: as we mentioned, calls outside of the United States or Canada will usually cost you money.  The amount of available calling credit that you have is displayed beside the search box.  Click the “+” icon beside this total to go to your Google Voice account, where you can add credit to your Google account.  More information can be found here.

  3. Once you’re in the phone call on Google Hangouts, you will see how much money the phone call is currently costing you in the upper-right corner (or “free”, if it isn’t costing money).  You can click the microphone icon to mute or unmute your microphone, or the gear icon to select the microphone and speakers that you’re using to talk and listen during the phone call.

    How to use the Google Hangouts phone call interface

    You can also click the numbers on the dialpad to enter them (such as if you need to select options in a touch-tone system).  To hang up, click the red telephone icon.

That’s about everything that you can do with Google Hangouts!