March 20, 2021

Google Chat: The Ultimate Feature Review of Google Chat in 2021

As real productivity nerds, my co-founders and I are on a quest to make our team wildly productive. We obsess and agonize over every productivity tool that we adopt. In this comprehensive guide we will share our views of Google Chat for Gmail.

Effective team communication is the #1 challenge facing business, bar none.  Too much communication and nothing gets done, and too little communication and the wrong work is delivered.  In truth, we are all guilty of bad and unreliable communication.  However, the tools we use can really can make a big difference to the way that communication flows within our team. 

Google’s newly released Google Chat for Gmail, and Google Workspace is Google's answer to collaboration in this remote working era.  Google Chat is a complete overhaul of the old Google Hangouts product and it is something distinctly different and far better that its predecessor.

But is Google Chat worth switching to? Let’s explore it together and we’ll share our verdict of each feature along the way and also answer the question about whether Google Chat is better than Slack.

Here's a quick guide — we have also included some of the best hidden hacks that we've found to make your team more productive:

  • The Interface (in Gmail)
  • Chat for 1-to-1 private conversations
  • Rooms for Team collaboration
  • Managing Tasks and Files in Rooms
  • Mobile app
  • Universal search
  • Gmail Add-ons and Bots
    Hidden gems
  • Winning features & Weaknesses
  • Pricing
  • Final verdict - Should your team switch to it?

What’s new with Google Chat, Gmail and Google Workspace

Google’s announcement of Google Workspace was very much anticipated.  It delivers three exciting developments:

  1. it’s a completely new user interface that integrates all of Google’s communication apps into the Gmail experience (Gmail, Google Chat and Meet)
  2. It’s part of a new brand identity that represents Google's ambitious product vision
  3. It’s has an all-new chat product that is Google’s answer to Slack (and is long over due)

Google Chat has potentially brought Google back in line with modern collaboration tools, which is exciting for millions of teams that are Google and Gmail-based.

Meet Google Chat, Google’s answer to Slack

The Interface (in Gmail)

Like all of Google products, the interface is modern, clean and simple with very few unnecessary complexities or bells and whistles.  But unlike before, Chat’s native home is within Gmail, but you can also download and install the standalone Google Chat app if you prefer.

Chat focuses on conversations between individuals and teams. You'll create Rooms that are focused on projects, topics or themes. Chat uses threads for communicating in group chats within rooms. 

If you share a Google Doc in Chat, Chat will update its sharing settings to make sure everyone in your team can read it. 

Verdict - We love the interface, particularly the way Google has weaved Chat and Meet into the native Gmail experience.  Gmail therefore now offers 4 apps in one (Gmail, Chat, Rooms and Meet) which reduces app switching and it works well with Gmail add-ons like Sortd.

Chat for 1-to-1 private conversations

The Chat section is where 1-to-1 direct private conversations happen with individuals in the team.  You can chat with people in your team or outside of your organization.  It also offers read receipts and smart replies, which is a wonderfully satisfying new addition.  

Google Chat Room in Gmail


Verdict - Chat's direct messaging features are pretty standard but it sets itself apart from other tools as it offers external chat where you can chat with billions of Gmail users outside your business.  Gmail is the only app with this type of scale and it brings a new dimension to inter-company communication.

Rooms for Team collaboration

Rooms are a fantastic hub to keep projects up to date and keep everyone on the same page.  Rooms are very much like Slack channels or Whatsapp Groups, where you can keep similar topics of conversations together.  Here you have threaded conversations as well as shared files and tasks to help you keep everyone on the same page. It also caters for external users and allows up to 8,000 members per room.

Chat Rooms in Gmail

The most powerful and sometimes under appreciated feature of rooms are @mentions. @mentions are a direct way to notify people of something that needs their attention in Google Chat. You can mention people within your messages and have just the right person notified within a Room without disturbing anyone else.

To make Rooms a true remote working hub, teams create rooms like:

  • Office Announcements
  • All Hands
  • Water Cooler
  • Sales, Marketing, Finance, Engineering, Support ...
  • Read Watch or Listen
  • Suggestion Box
  • Company Culture
  • Fun and Celebrations
Verdict - Rooms brings a world of new possibilities to the Google Ecosystem and with @mentions it has really become the go-to app for teams.  What drives our team crazy is that you can’t comment on a previous message in chat like you can do on many other tools like Slack and Whatsapp, but we hope Google will resolve this issue soon.  It is not as well polished as Slack but it covers all the important bases. 

Managing Tasks and Files in Rooms

To make Rooms even more useful, Google Chat allows you to add Tasks and Files into the Room.  Tasks and Files exist within a sub-tab within the room. You can add simple tasks with an assignee and due date.

Google Tasks in inside Google Chat in Gmail
Verdict - Tasks are clearly the weakest part of the Google Chat offering although it might be sufficient for very basic needs.  Even though tasks exist within Chat and Gmail, you can’t add actionable emails to the list, add notes or reference a task when you chat.  This type of functionality has become common and popular with most modern tools.   Teams will likely want to use an alternative Gmail-based task and email management add-on like Sortd to track work, manage tasks and assign emails to team members in Gmail.

Mobile app

When you download the Gmail app, you get access to all of the Chat features.  The app is available on iOS and Android. 

Gmail mobile app with Google Chat


Verdict - Full marks to Google for their mobile app.  It works great, it’s quick to use and efficient to work with.  Knowing that you have just one go-to app for all your communication needs is extremely powerful.

Online presence and notifications in Gmail

Chat allows you to update your present and you customize notifications to minimize disruption. 

Google Chat online presence in Gmail and Do not disturb

You can also set which rooms you want to receive notifications on and which ones to mute.

Google Chat Turn off notifications in Gmail

Reactions and Emojis

Emojis bring life to your messages and are an important way of quickly expressing emotion alongside your messages … to make things more humorous or light-hearted.  Sometimes all you need is a simple first pump to let your team know you are one the same page.

Google Chat Emojis in Gmail

You can also hover over any message and react to anyone else's message with an emoji.

Universal search

To search for any chat, you simply use Gmail’s primary search bar and then filter by chat messages on the top left.  Search result can be grouped by Room.

Google Chat Search in Gmail


Verdict - The power of Gmail’s new search is more profound than it seems.  Before, our team regularly asked each other “Where did you send me the file … was it on email or chat?” and with this universal search, you can pick it up wherever it is.

Gmail Add-ons and Bots

Gmail and Google Chat offer a large selection of Add-ons and Bots to support team workflow.  

With Bots, you can interact with some of your favorite apps right inside Chat (in Gmail). You can add bot to a room, or chat with them directly. There are a small number of bots at the moment but some include the ability to add Giphys, assign work, access files, schedule meetings and receive external alerts inside rooms.

Bots in Google Chat in Gmail

With Gmail Add-ons and Chrome Extensions, you can totally customize your team Gmail experience and add add-ons to organize team email and customer service (using apps like Sortd), send mail merges (using apps like Mergo etc).  

Gmail add-ons in Gmail alongside Google Chat

Hidden Gems

There are a number of hidden gems that are not obvious when you start using Chat.

The most useful hidden gem that our team uses multiple times a day is the ability to inject a Google Meet video call into any message you send out as you type.  This gives your team time back and is a major saving of time when you quickly want to start a call.

Adding Google Meet call into Google Chat in Gmail


Google Meet call inside Google Meet in Gmail

Another handy feature is to send any actionable chat message to your email inbox using the “Forward to Inbox” button.  Being that chat messages stream in endlessly, it allows you to push messages to your inbox and you can process it in your own time when processing your Inbox.

Winning features

Our favorite feature

Our favorite feature is that Chat is deeply baked into the Gmail experience and that everything is centralized and organized into one app.  Gmail-based teams will value this for the time saving benefits that it provides, its cohesion and the ease of use it delivers.  This also resolves many of the team adoption challenges that teams face when taking on a new app.  So if your team has bought into Gmail, it’s almost a no brainer.

Our second favorite feature

Our second favorite feature is the fact that it helps not only with team collaboration but also inter-company collaboration.  Gmail has 1.8 billion users which means that if you or your team are dealing with external partners, Google Chat will work out of the box with them too.  That is a real game changer and products like Slack have nothing to compete with it.  And the best part is that the external party doesn’t need to download yet another application (Slack, Messenger, Telegram, Zoom or Whatsapp) just for a quick chat.

Chat to external users in Google Chat in Gmail

Weaknesses

  • Commenting on a colleagues previous chat message is impossible.  You can’t select a message and click reply or comment and this can be infuriating at times.  This such an obvious use case that seems to have been overlooked by Google's team or at least kicked down the road.
  • Google’s Tasks and Google Chat task features are awfully basic and your team will likely want to choose a richer Gmail-based solution to manage teamwork i.e. one that cater for project management, one that allows you to chat on a specific task, add notes track, assign emails to team members and run shared inboxes (like projects@, sales@, support@ mailboxes).
  • Tasks are also hidden deep within the Gmail interface making it inaccessible for active teamwork.
  • There is no task orientated chat capability like you would get in an Sortd, Trello, Monday or Asana.  This limits task orientated collaboration and you will need to augment Gmail with one of these tools. 
  • Read receipts are missing in Rooms, which we hope will appear in an upcoming release.

Google Chat Pricing 

Google Chat forms part of the Google Workspace subscription and is available on all the pricing plans of Google Workspace as follows:

Business Starter $6 USD | 30 GB storage per user | Video Meetings - 100 participants

Business Standard $12 | USD2 TB storage per user | Video Meetings - 150 participants

Business Plus $18 USD | 5 TB storage per user | Video Meetings - 250 participants

Enterprise Pricing not published | Unlimited| Video Meetings - 250 participants

Final Verdict - Should your team switch to it?

Winning teams are built upon good communication, and are supported by the right tool that enhances collaboration.   

In today’s remote working era, it’s hard not to consider switching over to Google Chat particularly when it’s built to answer many of the challenges that most teams are struggling with every day.  

The holy grail for team productivity is one invisible tool that streamlines teamwork, communication and customer delivery without getting in anyone's way.  Google Workspace and Google chat have certainly made great strides towards this vision and are built for teams who are serious about team collaboration.  

Taking it one step further, there are certainly many merits for considering a switch over from even a refined product like Slack (yes, I dared to say it!).

While Chat may have some rough edges, if you consider it as one component in a greater Google Workspace experience, the total is greater than the sum of the individual parts, making Gmail into a powerful communications hub.

We hope that this guide has been helpful and we plan to write more content on Team Collaboration within Gmail.  To learn more about other Google Workspace apps that can help your better collaborate, we have plenty of content for you:

Sortd for Gmail with Google Chat

Sortd is an all-in-one workspace for Gmail-based teams.  It helps team to manage Sales, Service and Customer Support right from Gmail, and works alongside Google Chat.  Sortd is a Google Launchpad backed company, trusted by 80,000+ users around the world.


Written by
Rodney Kuhn
Co-founder of Sortd for Gmail