Just yesterday, Google rolled out an update to Hangouts on Android that added a bit of whimsical fun via stickers. While not as cute as that, the desktop version of Hangouts is now also seeing its fair share of updates. The latest version of the Hangouts Chrome browser app has been updated not just to match the Android version’s Material Design but also adds a similar Phone tab to the user interface. It also got its own desktop notifications to alert you to new messages.
That latter one might not be a big deal if you leave completely inside your web browser, in which case you’ve already been receiving notifications from the previous Hangouts plugin. The feature, however, becomes handy, if not essential, when you disable Hangouts’ “Always on Top” mode (which can be annoying at times) or if you’re using Hangouts on a Mac. In either scenario, now you will be getting desktop notifications like a regular desktop app as well.
Perhaps more interesting is the new Phone tab in Hangouts. This new tab lets you call your Hangouts contacts right from your desktop. You can even manage you call settings, like adding credits or viewing calling rates. There’s even a bonus if you’re a Google Voice user, as you will also be able to send (and receive) SMS directly from that tab. This functionality has been around for a few months on Android (with the Dialer app installed) and just recently in the embedded chat window in Gmail as well.
Of course, these features only work with the Chrome browser, since it’s a Chrome app. But do note that if you have the older version of the Hangouts extension already installed, you will get twice the notifications and probably a bit of confusion, as this is a separate Chrome app that can work side by side the Chrome extension. So it might be best to disable one or the other depending on whether you actually need the new call and SMS features.