We know Hangouts isn't long for this world. Support for the service is winding down and being replaced by Meet and Chat, but the transition is slow and has only been initiated for G Suite users so far. Those with personal Gmail accounts can't migrate and many are still attached to Hangouts. Whether you're in that boat or you have some data in the app that you want to save, you probably hit a major issue when trying to download videos: you can't do it from the app.
When your friends or family members sent you videos in Hangouts, you used to be able to tap and hold, choose Save media, and have them downloaded on your phone. Now, this process results in a video that can't be played. What's actually happening is that the downloaded file is the video's still thumbnail, wrongly formatted as a video. Simply rename it to .jpeg and you'll see it's an image. That means you can't save videos.
Left: Saving a video results in a blank file. Right: Saved videos are actually image thumbnails wrongly named as mp4.
The problem has been reported multiple times on Hangouts' support forums, with threads going as far back as February. The only feedback is that Google is aware of the issue, but there's no fix in sight.
Looking into this problem, I found three solutions that vary in difficulty and outcome:
- Download an older version of Hangouts: I went back to v27 (APK Mirror) from December 2018 and was able to save videos, albeit in lower resolution than the one they were sent in. If you already have a newer version of Hangouts, you have to uninstall it first or uninstall updates for the app to go back to an earlier version.
- Use the Hangouts website on a computer: Find the video, click to play it, and then tap and hold to save it. This should get you the highest resolution available.
- Use Google Takeout to get all Hangouts data in one fell swoop: Deselect all other Google services on that page, but keep Hangouts. Request your data and wait for the email with the download link. In my case, all videos where exported in high resolution but, in the archive file, they were incorrectly saved as .jpg. That's the opposite of the app's issue. (You can't make up this stuff.) I renamed them to .mp4 and was able to play them back.
If you still have memories locked in Hangouts and would like to get them back, these three suggestions should help you solve the issue. And if you're still hanging on to the service, maybe it's time you move on. Plenty of other messengers exist and don't suffer from such glaring issues for 8+ months without a fix or even a solution suggested by a product manager. It took me less than an hour to find the three workarounds, it's not sorcery.