You can set a status in Google Chat so your family, friends, and coworkers know exactly what you’re up to at any given moment. These statuses will expire after a set amount of time, so you don’t have to worry about turning them off. On Android, tap the menu button (top left), then Add a status; in Gmail or on the web app, tap the status button (top right) then Add a status. At the moment, you can’t set your status from the iOS app.
Besides setting a status, you can set yourself as Active, Away, or in Do Not Disturb mode on Google Chat. This works on iOS as well as everywhere else—just tap or click on your current status to change it (on mobile you’ll need to open the app menu first). This is mostly to let other people know whether you’re currently available to chat, but the Do Not Disturb mode will also mute Chat notifications.
If you want to make sure you don’t miss a message, you can set up email reminders for them. From the Google Chat app on the web, click the cog icon (top right) and then open the drop-down menu under Email notifications. Your two choices currently are to have the feature switched off entirely or to get emails about direct messages and mentions, so you’re not going to get a flurry of updates about the various group chats that you’re in.
If you want to talk with multiple people at once, you have two options: group conversations and rooms. The former is the more traditional approach, and you can start one on the web by clicking the + icon next to Chat and then Start group conversation. On mobile, tap New Chat on the Chat tab, pick your first contact, and then use the Add people button up in the top right corner to add everyone else you want to speak to.
Rooms are actually very similar to group conversations, but they’re designed more for business rather than personal convos. You have more options for sharing files, assigning tasks, threading messages, and so on (more detail on the differences here). To create a new room on the web, click the + button next to Rooms in the conversation list; on mobile, open the Rooms tab and tap New room. You’ll then be able to invite the relevant participants.
You can install a desktop app for Google Chat, which isn’t much more than a wrapper for the web interface, but it does mean you can save on a browser tab and have your conversations available from the taskbar (Windows) or dock (macOS). To set it up, open up Google Chat in Chrome and you’ll get an Install prompt; if you want to remove it later, you’ll need to head to chrome://apps in a Chrome tab and then right-click Google Chat.
You might already be using the smart reply features built into Gmail to compose your messages more quickly, and you can get the same assistance in Google Chat on the web and in the desktop app. Click the cog icon (top right), then make sure the Enable smart reply on web and desktop box is ticked under Smart Reply. If Google Chat has one or more suggestions for you in a particular conversation, they’ll pop up in the reply box.
You can keep the Google Chat messages you’re most interested in pinned to the top of the conversation list quite easily. On the web, click the three dots to the side of a chat and choose Pin. On mobile, open a conversation, tap the name(s) at the top, and then Pin. As you would expect, it means speedy access to the chats you use the most (or maybe just don’t want to forget), and you can repeat the same process to unpin a conversation again.
In certain chats you might not want everything to be on the record forever, and you can turn off the history for a particular conversation by tapping or clicking the participants at the top of the chat and choosing Turn off history. Until you turn it back on again, messages sent in the conversation will expire after 24 hours—though this only applies to new messages, not any message history archive that might already exist in the chat.
You get a few new features after the switch from Hangouts to Google Chat, and some of them you might already recognize from Slack. One small but very useful upgrade is the ability to react to individual messages with emojis, for those times when a little icon says it better than words. Hover over a message on the web to see the emoji panel appear, or tap and hold on a message on mobile and then choose Add reaction to pick your emoji.