Google has given Hangouts a brand new home on the web, meaning you no longer need to go through Google+ or Gmail to start chatting.
The new website lets you sign in directly to Hangouts – found at hangouts.google.com – and lets you see your contacts and your older conversations.
The site puts Hangouts’ three key features — instant messaging, voice calls, and video chats — front and center, with big buttons to start up each of them. For anyone that has used Hangouts on Gmail, the user interface looks mainly the same, but the main difference is that there’s a larger contacts list and random ‘inspiring’ wallpaper.
In the past, you could access Hangouts on computers in three ways: from Gmail, from the Google+ site, and from browser plugins. While all those still remain, now there is a dedicated website for the messaging service. This setup has a couple of advantages. For one, you won’t need to have Gmail or Google+ constantly open to chat. And you won’t need to install any plugins either. If you use Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, you’re good to go. For Google, it also reinforces a separation of the Hangouts brand from Google+.
Hangouts has been getting a lot of attention from Google over the past couple months. The Hangouts app has been overhauled on both iOS and Android, bringing it up to date with Google’s Material Design style and making the service a bit easier to use.
The new website for Hangouts also takes on Facebook’s Messenger service, which is also now a standalone app that doesn’t require a Facebook account and is accessible through an app and the web.