How to use Google Voice with the new Hangouts app

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Hangouts is finally swallowing up Google Voice. The newest update to Google's messaging app includes Voice calling and texting, a further step towards fully combining the two services. 

Pulling this together on your phone takes a little bit of work, however. The new app requires some nuanced settings and requires one other download from the Play Store.

If you are a Google Voice power user, or are just getting familiar with the service for the first time, follow our tutorial for understanding and getting the most out of what Google has put together.

Update Hangouts

The first step is to make sure that you have version 2.3 of Hangouts. Check for the update in Google Play. If you don't have it yet, don't worry—Google's "staged rollouts" mean that app updates might take a few days to reach your device. Of, avoid waiting by grabbing the APK and installing it on your device.

When launching the new Hangouts you will get a popup notice asking if you want to integrate Google Voice text messages and voicemail.

google voice sms

Turn on Google Voice SMS in Hangouts to unify your messaging.

Next, head to the Settings and select SMS. This is where you can go all-in with Google Voice and make it your default number for text messages. You could also choose your phone's default phone number, or choose Smart Reply to have your SMS messages sent using the last number you texted that contact with. The text bar will indicate from which number your message is being sent.

sms smart reply

Choose which number Hangouts will use for messaging.

You're not done, however. To activate calling you must download the Hangouts Dialer. This both activates the voice calling feature and serves as a bookmark to the dialer if you place the icon on your home screen.

Voice calls from within Hangouts will work on Wi-Fi, which is a good option if you are out of carrier network range. If you have not made Google Voice the default phone number on your device, you can use the app to start making and receiving calls through the service.

Messages and calls

Why would you want to switch your communication to Google Voice? For the promise of Google-powered simplicity! You can send and receive SMS messages not only from the Hangouts Android app but also from Gmail, the legacy Google Voice site, or Hangouts on the desktop.

hangouts conversations

Swipe between contacts, conversations, and the dialer with the new hangouts.

You can also answer Voice calls and listen to voicemails from the browser. Google Voice will transcribe your voicemail messages so you don't have to listen to someone who drags out a message and can't get to the point. The transcription is still rather hit and miss, though.

The biggest missing feature is MMS. If you send a picture, the recipient instead gets a link to view the photo in the browser. Considering that Google Voice launched in 2009 and it still doesn't support MMS, there is no telling if it will ever arrive.

Google Voice Dialer

The dialer works as you would expect - either type in a person's name to get one of your contacts or tap in the actual number.

hangouts dialer

Yes, it is a dialer that makes phone calls.

If you have a Nexus device, the Hangouts dialer is actually a downgrade. Google's stock dialer uses Google Search to find places to call, eliminating the need to copy and paste numbers over from another application.

Google should build this into the Hangouts Dialer if it wants to increase usage and tempt more people to use the service. It is significantly more convenient to perform search and dialing all from within one app instead of jumping in and out of search and a dialer.

Green is keen

Hangouts 2.3 introduces another redesign that looks like an unfinished half-step toward a complete Material Design makeover. The top is now so green that it stand to have a horizontal line to break up the account name from the icons.

With the new layout you can quickly swipe between contacts, messages, and the dialer. Unfortunately, while messaging you can no longer swipe to the right to get back to the main list of conversations.

hangouts sidebar

Switch between Hangouts accounts and SMS messages.

It also eliminates the ability to swipe a conversation to archive it. That isn't a bad thing, however, as it was very easy to accidentally swipe away a conversation. Now, you'll have to tap-and-hold, then select whether you want to archive or delete the Hangout.

You can now split off text messages to a completely separate section so they are not co-mingled with the instant messages through Hangouts. Or go the other direction - merge conversations so that you can text or Hangout with the contact by toggling between them. 

I found the latter option rather unruly, as a conversation does not often flow in a linear fashion from one method of communication to another. Yet when you separate out the texts, there is too much tapping and swiping to navigate to the right place. The experience is rather disjointed and needs some streamlining.

Given this is only version 2.3, expect Google to tighten up some of the awkwardness and put Voice capabilities further front and center. If nothing else, the oft-neglected Google Voice is not dead, though it is clearly going through a significant metamorphosis.

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