Using Google Hangouts on your desktop, laptop and Chromebook just got seriously cool, with the release of a brand new Chrome App for Windows and Chrome OS.

Google is billing the release as offering a “native app experience”. It features Facebook Messenger-style “floating heads (or ‘always on top avatars’, if you prefer Google speak), auto-minimising chats that get out of your way and terse previews for unread messages on hover.

Avatars for active conversations sit on screen and can be freely repositioned.  While the overall look and feel differs from OS to OS (only truly looks as it should on Chrome OS, no surprise) the overall experience is roughly the same.

You can see an overview of the new app in the video below.

Since being rebranded as Hangouts Google has been proactive in offering a number of ways to use it. This latest offering is arguably the most innovative and also the most user friendly.

While some may be quick to dismiss the new app as a pale imitation of Facebook Messenger on mobile, they’d be naively glossing over the benefits. In just 30 minutes of use, I honestly can’t imagine going back to any other way. I can see my active chats whatever I’m doing, reply, and then resume the task at hand — I don’t even have to hit a minimise button.

linux mac new hangouts

Sadly, it’s not all roses just yet. There are no sound notifications for new alerts, the badge doesn’t seem to increment past ‘2’, and if you’re using it on Mac or Linux be aware that it’s currently unsupported and looks a little…let’s just say less than polished.

On Chrome OS there’s also a slight performance hit. Each active chat window runs as a “web view” activity. On my ageing Samsung Chromebook each web view eats through RAM and CPU cycles like it’s no ones business — so do keep that in mind.

But whatever I have to say about it, going hands on for yourself is what truly counts. You can install the new Hangouts app right this cotton-picking minute from the Chrome Web Store.

New Hangouts App on Chrome Web Store

Chrome Apps hangouts