How to: Start a Google Hangout with the Grandkids

The Droid Lawyer’s mother is anxious to “hangout” with the Droid Tots on Christmas Day. Of course, the Tots will have little or no interest in reciprocating the affection after playing with their new Christmas joys, but they’ll acquiesce any way. Since the Tots’ grandparents are thousands of miles away, we’ll have to use technology to facilitate the conversation. Unfortunately, like many Baby Boomers, the grandparents aren’t as tech savvy as their progenity. But that’s nothing to worry about since they’re set up on Google Hangouts.

We prefer to use Google Hangouts because Hangouts works across all platforms — some of the relatives are iOS fans — and is fairly easy to use. Yes, I realize that “Google’s tracking our conversation so the company can sell advertising,” but I don’t care. Like any good travel slide show, the only people who really care are those folks actually involved.

Hangouts is great, and Google brings us technology that only big corporations only used to be able to afford.

Let’s Hangout with my new Android tablet (or smartphone)

You can use Hangouts on your brand new tablet or smartphone once you install the Hangouts app.

To get started, click Hangouts from your app drawer. You’ll immediately see a list of your friends.

Hangouts Main Screen
Click the images to view larger versions.

Green dots indicate your friends who are “available” to Hangout. Obviously, depending on your friend’s location, your definition of available might upset them.

You’ll start a conversation by entering your friend’s name, email address, or phone number.

Add Google+ conversation

If you’ve set up Google+ circles, then you can easily add the entire circle to the conversation. This is great for Christmas Day events when you want to chat with a number of family members at the same time. I set up a “family” circle to talk to my parents and brothers and sisters at once. You can have up to 10 users in a group conversation.

Clicking a picture or entering a name brings up the conversation screen. From here you can send a traditional chat message from the box at the bottom, or initiate a video Hangout by clicking the camera in right hand corner.

Hangout session

When you click the camera, Hangouts will begin dialing your friend. Of course, the first thing you’ll see is a rather unflattering full screen shot of yourself.

Hangouts+ connecting

You’ll need to be aware of several options, or troubleshooting features, on the Hangouts screen.

Along the bottom you can see a microphone, speaker, and video camera.

Hangouts+ bottom

To mute your device click the microphone icon. From the speaker you can adjust the sound options (speaker or headphones), and the camera will turn your device’s camera on or off.

Clicking the group icon on the upper right will allow you to add other users to the conversation.

Add users to Hangouts+

Now, if you’ve done everything right, you can video chat to your heart’s content.

I like using Hangouts on a tablet or smartphone because it’s easy to hold in your hand and you can roam freely to quieter places.

Let’s Hangout with my computer

If you didn’t get a fancy new tablet for Christmas you can still use Hangouts. And in fact, it’s a little easier to start a Hangout thanks to the Chrome Hangouts extension.

New Hangout in Google Chrome

Simply click the extensions tab in the right corner, and select Hangouts from the list of Chrome extensions.

You’ll see a list of your friends, similar to one above.

Hangouts Box Chrome

This is a floating box, so you can move it around your screen.

Simply click on a friend and follow the same steps listed above to get the Hangout going.

You may notice several additional features that are available in the Chrome Hangout, but not available in the tablet version. For instance, you can add goofy icons to your picture and also share your screen with everyone. I’d encourage you to play around with the side screen to get the hang of Hangouts.

Desktop Hangout Full Screen

Help, someone’s calling

Sometimes, when the Droid Tots actually want to talk to grandma and grandpa, our side will initiate the Hangout. If you’re on the receiving end of the Hangout, you’ll find that entering the conversation is very similar to answer a phone call.

First you’ll hear the Hangouts ringtone, and then you’ll see something like this:

Answer Hangouts Video

Simply press Answer and you’re on your way to the Hangouts conversation.

Welcome to the new way to connect with friends and family

Before I let you go off and start chatting with others, I want you to remember a couple of important things. First, the quality of the audio and video on your Hangout will depend solely on your internet connection. Sometimes I prefer to use my phone’s 4G LTE connection since I can average 11.5 Mbps up and down versus 5 and 1 Mbps on my home’s WiFi connection. Yes, I’ll use data for the time I’m talking. But unless the grandparents want to view our family’s entire Christmas morning, the 20-30 minutes we’ll chat won’t put a significant dent in the data usage. Plus, I’d rather have a quality connection versus a jumpy one.

Second, you’ll have the best experience by holding your end of the conversation in a quieter, well lit location. Your device’s microphone is astoundingly good at picking up sound, but even more astoundingly bad at translating that garbled mess of kids playing into a recognizable string of words.

Third, if you’re having problems getting Hangouts to work, check out Hangouts Help. You’ll find a number of tools to help troubleshoot and resolve problems. You can also check out Google Tips for suggestions on making Hangouts work.

Finally, have fun. If you’re using Hangouts as a way to connect with family, then connect together.

Hangouts provides an opportunity to bring people together who are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles. Don’t let distance drag you away from Christmas bliss with family, just ask for help from Google.

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.