Google Hangouts has been available for almost three years now, and while it still has a few minor issues, it's still a slick and powerful messaging platform that works almost anywhere. Dig a little deeper into the Google Hangouts app, and you'll find a bunch of features you might not yet have come across, from secret codes to floating chat heads -- here are our favourites:
1. Search your conversations from Gmail
You can find anything you've said in the past on Hangouts from Gmail on the web. Type "in:chats" in the search bar, followed by a set of keywords, and any matching conversation threads appear. It's also possible to apply stars and labels to your chats just as you can to any Gmail thread.
This only works if Hangouts is configured to log all of your conversations though. From inside any chat window, click the cog icon and then tick the box marked Hangout history. The same history option is available inside the Hangouts Chrome app and the mobile apps for Android and iOS.
2. Make it easier (or harder) to be found
Hangouts includes a variety of settings that govern whether or not people can get in touch with you if they know information such as your email address and mobile number. You can tweak these options if you want to make it easier or more difficult for people to find you on Hangouts.
In Gmail, click the down arrow next to your name. In the Chrome Hangouts app, click the menu button in the top left corner. Select Customise invite settings to make changes. You can choose to allow conversations at any time, allow invitations, or block everything (if people don't have your contact information).
3. Mute notifications
A Hangouts notification can be the highlight of your day or an unwelcome interruption, and there are a few different ways to mute them. Open the settings pane inside individual chat windows to stop notifications until further notice (it's behind the menu button or cog button depending on where you are).
It's also possible to mute notifications across the entire Google Hangouts app. Tap the menu button in the Hangouts apps for web and mobile, or the down arrow next to your name in Gmail, and you can snooze notifications for anywhere between an hour and three days depending on which device you're on.
4. Doodle on your messages
There is the option to send a doodle to one (or more) of your contacts inside a conversation window, though it's not immediately apparent how to go about it. In your browser, hover the mouse cursor over the picture icon in the lower right-hand corner, then click the pencil icon that suddenly appears.
When you're in drawing mode you get a choice of colours and brush sizes, and even after you've sent your picture it can still be edited -- just click on the pencil icon hovering over the image itself. This way, if the Hangout conversation starts dragging you could always launch a game of pictionary to liven it up again.
5. Tell your contacts what you're up to
Google Hangouts includes a status option that you might not already know about. If you're temporarily unavailable or heading out into the wilderness for much longer than expected, you can let people know. Alternatively, you can use the feature to simply let people know what kind of mood you're in right now.
From the mobile apps, tap the menu button then choose Status. From the browser apps, click on the menu button (the down arrow next to your name in Gmail or the hamburger icon in the Chrome app). You get 140 characters to work with and that can include an emoji symbol.
6. Tell your contacts where you are
You don't get the doodle option (see above) when you're using Hangouts on a mobile app, but you do get the opportunity to share your location. Tap the GPS lock icon at the foot of the conversation window and you can choose a nearby place or send a residential address to everyone inside the chat.
Icons at the bottom of the mini-map you've just created let your contacts open it up in Google Maps or get directions right to wherever you are. Whether you're trying to find a group of friends or vice versa, it can save you a lot of typing or calling. The location isn't updated in real time, though.
7. Use different ringtones for different people
Setting different ringtones for different contacts is a handy way of helping you decide whether or not a call is worth picking up before you've even looked at the screen. If you're using the Hangouts app for Android and iOS, it's possible to set customised ringtones and message alerts for each person.
From inside a conversation window, tap the menu button (three vertical dots) then choose People & options. By selecting Chat message sound or Call ringtone, you can pick a new audio clip from your device's audio, or indeed switch audible notifications off altogether for this conversation.
8. Keep chats on top of other windows
If you install the Hangouts app inside Chrome then you can get a Facebook chat heads-style experience on your desktop (or Chromebook). Go to the options screen (via the top-left icon) and click on Enable transparent UI. Open conversations then appear as floating bubbles on the left of the screen.
Enable the Always On Top setting to keep the bubbles themselves (and any conversations you open up) above other windows for easy access; you can also click and drag on the Hangouts button to move the icons to another part of the screen. Note the feature is not currently available for Macs.
9. Format text
You can apply some basic formatting to your text inside Hangouts windows if you need to add some emphasis: the trusty old Ctrl+B, Ctrl+I and Ctrl+U keyboard shortcuts will add bold, italic and underline effects to anything you subsequently type (replace Ctrl with Cmd if you're using a Mac).
You can't apply these formatting options from mobile devices, but any existing formatting does appear in the conversations. If you really want to make a point or change the tone, then it's something else to make use of alongside all of the emoji and other features built into Hangouts.
10. Change the background colour, and a few extra tricks
Type "/bikeshed" into an open chat window to change its colour to something different (this seems to be on a random loop). Alternatively, type "/me" to insert your own name -- so you can construct sentences like "/me is impressed" and so on (this works separately from your Hangouts status).
There are a few other similar Easter eggs hidden in Hangouts, though they seem to change quite regularly. Entering "yay!!" should bring up an excited emoji while "/ponies" offers up a surprise too. Unfortunately these secret codes don't have any effect in the mobile versions of Hangouts.