A free version of Google Chat is officially set to arrive in the first half of 2021. As we spotted earlier this month, Google is starting the Hangouts migration with a “preview of the new Chat” for free, personal accounts.

Chat has long just been a Workspace-only app, though those paying customers can invite anyone with a Gmail address to specific conversations. The company has spent the last year migrating enterprises away from Hangouts to Chat and Meet.

Google is now ready to make Chat available for free users that are still using Hangouts, so that the classic service can eventually be deprecated. As spotted by Ars Technica‘s Ron Amadeo, some users opening the standalone Google Chat app today are being greeted with a “Welcome to Google Chat” prompt.

Google Chat introduces a new experience and features not found in Hangouts.

Because this is a preview of the new Chat, you might experience bugs and other issues.

This beta allows you to reach and find any Hangouts contact that you have saved, though group chatting is not yet available today. Design-wise, Google Chat is a straightforward messaging app. However, there are some enterprise-leaning features that consumers will have access to, including the ability to quickly search and insert files from Google Drive and quick Calendar meeting creation.

Amadeo also points out how video calling is wholly reliant on Google Meet. As such, video call invites generate a link rather than immediately starting a call. Meanwhile, we also expect Google Chat to be available in Gmail as a dedicated tab alongside “Meet.”

The Google Chat preview for Hangouts users is not yet widely available today. The “welcome” prompt did not appear on several accounts we checked today. Google’s previous guidance said the option to transition would be available “starting in the first half of 2021.” Hangouts conversations, contacts, and saved history will automatically be migrated.

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