Is it a Skype replacement?

Google Hangouts video meeting

By Geri Dreiling

I use Skype regularly for video meetings. Occasionally, I want to share my computer screen as I go over a project with my clients or project coworkers. Screen sharing used to be a free feature on Skype but now it requires a premium membership. The cost starts at $4.99 a month. While it may not seem like much, those seemingly little expenses can quickly add up to a bloated business overhead.

I decided to give Google Hangouts, a free service, a try. It is essentially Google’s response to Skype and is available to set up if you have a Google Plus profile. You can conduct video meetings with one or multiple users. You can share computer screens with Hangout participants. You can even live stream the conference and save it to YouTube.

To access Google Hangouts go to your Google Plus page and in the left margin select the “more” category.

Google Plus more button

Then select the Hangouts option

Google hangouts button

A window will open that will allow you to start the hangout.

Hangouts window

You can invite friends to your Hangout by typing in their names, email addresses or even telephone numbers. Calls are free for U.S. and Canadian phone numbers.

Start a hangout

Check the box and you can broadcast your chat live. Conversely, if you don’t want to broadcast it live, be sure that box is not checked!

Hangouts on air

After testing Google Hangouts and comparing it to Skype, here are the pros and cons.

It is free

This is obviously positive. Not only can you share screens for free but you can also carry on a conversation with multiple users in one Hangout without an added cost. The free version of Skype is limited to two users per call. And as an added bonus, if you choose to add someone to a Hangout using their telephone number rather than a Google Plus profile, it is free for U.S. and Canadian telephone numbers.

Screen sharing

When you’re reviewing documents with someone, the ability use your cursor to point to specific provisions and discuss the text is critical. It is easier to clear up questions and even make edits in real time.

Call quality

When I tested Google Hangouts, the quality of the connection wasn’t as good as what I was used to while using Skype. The sound was not as clear. Sharing screens was extremely slow. In spite of having a slider for adjusting the bandwidth usage, the quality didn’t seem to be great even while using full bandwidth. I eventually got tired of the sound quality and re-connected via Skype. The sound quality improved immediately.

Live streaming

Live streaming is fantastic or worrisome depending on your fret-ometer. It would be great for conducting public question-and-answer interviews on legal topics that could be uploaded to YouTube and added to the law firm’s website.

But no one wants to accidentally live stream attorney-client conferences or any meetings with confidentiality concerns. I worried that I was accidentally streaming my conversation live even though I had not checked the option. As anyone who has ever misfired an email knows, operator error is always a risk.  For users like me who fret, Google allows you to disable Hangouts on Air. Here is the guide for administrators.

Security

When it comes to security, the frequently asked questions section of Google Hangouts says:

All hangout video and audio streams are encrypted, so when users are off site, they can still join hangouts securely from outside of your company without VPN. In addition, all other features of hangouts (such as chat and integrated Google Drive files) are served over https, with the exception of YouTube content.

Google also states it does not store the data.

An online search of security flaws uncovered one developer’s post who claimed he was able to exploit a security issue that allowed him to listen in Hangout chats.

Skype’s disclosure states that it uses the Advanced Encryption Standard which is also used the by U.S. government to protect sensitive information. However, Skype also notes that if one of the users is on a mobile or landline, that part of the call is not encrypted.

As with all things digital, Skype users still need to be alert for malware and fake apps.

The Verdict

From a sound quality standpoint, I still prefer Skype. However, if you want to create marketing videos using a question and answer format, Hangouts might be one option to consider.

Have you used Google Hangouts? Do you prefer Google Hangouts to Skype?

Also in Lawyer Tech Review:

  1. How to Use Skype in Your Law Practice
  2. Are public WiFi networks really safe?
  3. Google Voice Search and Voice Actions Review