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It's been a while since Google announced that it will split Hangout into two separate services — Chat and Meet. For workspace accounts, the transition to Chat began last year, but personal account holders were only given a blurred ETA of "first half of 2021." For a few lucky accounts, the migration started early, in August of 2020, and continued throughout the year and early 2021 (we've received dozens of tips since the original one). Now, things seem to be more official as Google is acknowledging the transition and calling this a "preview" of Google Chat.
Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo is one of the first users to spot this and, according to him, all his contacts are available on the Chat app. This is in line with what we expected since Google promised that Hangouts conversations, contacts, and saved history would automatically be migrated. Unfortunately — probably because it's a preview — group chats are still unavailable.
My Google Chat is now showing this Hangouts "Preview" message.
It looks like all my individual contacts work and are accessible via the search bar.
The only missing feature now is group chat. pic.twitter.com/Vf8mLahrbE
— Ron Amadeo (@RonAmadeo) February 24, 2021
Ron also points out that video calls done via the app don't ring the receiver's phone like an incoming call. Instead, they send out an invite link for a "video meeting" which is not as convenient as it used to be with Hangouts. While there's no assurance, this quirk may be addressed when Google makes the Chat app available for all free, personal accounts.
The current "preview" rollout seems to be quite limited and none of my personal accounts have received it yet.
Available for web
As noted by 9to5Google Google Chat for web is now being made available to personal accounts. To check if you've got access, simply head over to https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/chat/#chat/welcome. If you're a part of the non-paying crowd that has gotten early access to Chat, you should see the new Gmail-like UI interface.
The collapsible navigation drawer on the left houses Chats (both individual and group), Rooms, and even Meet. Compared to the UI that's currently available to Workspace users, this new UI also has support for Hangouts-like chat windows. Like the Chat "preview", this Web interface rollout seems to be quite limited and none of my personal accounts have picked it up yet.