11 Great Video Conference Options for Staying Connected While Apart
These video call apps and platforms (many of them free!) are the easiest way to catch up with loved ones and host work meetings from afar. Find the best choice for your physically distanced chats here.
Video conferencing apps are on a roll. According to a new report from analytics company App Annie, business conferencing apps had their biggest week ever last month—a record 62 million downloads in just a week’s time. With the majority of the country under shelter-in-place orders at least through the end of this month, people are turning to virtual tools to help them stay connected and socialize with friends and loved ones while practicing social and physical distancing.
It makes sense that video platforms are seeing a huge surge, but how can you determine which one is for you? Should you be using the same service to have a business meeting with your colleagues, a virtual happy hour with your friends, or a check-in call to your grandmother? It depends. We’ve rounded up the best video conference options for staying in touch with every kind of connection.
Teams is a Microsoft video conferencing app that allows you to host events for up to 10,000 people (with the top-tier package) with high-quality audio, video, screen sharing, and the same security and compliance of Office 365. It’s a good option for companies with employees working remotely who already use other Microsoft products, such as Outlook. All users must have at least an Office 365 ProPlus membership, which starts at $12 per month and includes the full suite of Office apps, including Microsoft Teams.
Webex is another smart option for remote workers. If your company is already using Cisco communications tools, this platform easily integrates for web conferencing, webinars, and cloud-based phone systems. While it’s free to sign up and get access to video calls for up to 100 participants (with unlimited meeting time), upgraded plans start at $13.50 per month and can include multiple hosts, an administrative portal, and cloud storage.
Google Hangouts and Hangouts Meet
People with a corporate Google account or anyone who uses Gmail has free access to Google Hangouts, which is a basic message and video chat option for up to 10 people. But Google also has Hangouts Meet, an enterprise-only version of Hangouts, supporting between 100 and 250 people in a single meeting. Think of Hangouts Meet as your office water cooler spot to close out the work week, and Google Hangouts as your happy hour gathering place (for up to 25 friends) to get the weekend started.
A popular option for meeting up with coworkers and friends, the standout features of Zoom calls are screen sharing, a chat box that allows for messaging to the chat host or group, and an option to record the call for review later.
The basic plan, which is free, can host up to 100 participants and endless one-on-one meetings, with a 40-minute limit for group meetings. You can sign up for an upgraded plan, starting at $14.99 a month, for more features, like longer meetings, more participants, reporting, custom emails, webinar hosting, and more. You can also use its virtual backgrounds capability, which can help disguise whatever messy room you might be calling from while working from home.
A word of caution on Zoom, though. Along with the major, coronavirus-related uptick in remote Zoom users around the world, the platform has also been experiencing some cyber security issues. That said, the company has issued a statement of acknowledgment, and information regarding its ongoing privacy and security improvement endeavors. This includes, among several other efforts, school administrator trainings for setting up secure virtual classrooms and "a weekly webinar on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. PT to provide privacy and security updates to our community," Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan said in his statement.
If you're already a loyal Zoom user, here's how to make sure your virtual family birthday party, or doctoral dissertation presentation doesn't get crashed by an uninvited (and inappropriate) guest.
If you’re trying to keep in touch with pals and younger family members, this newer, free video-chatting platform is where all the cool Gen-Zers and millennials are hanging out—although it’s a lot of fun for any age group. Houseparty is sort of a mix of Snapchat and Skype. Download the app for iOS, Android, MacOS, or Chrome, create an account and connect your contacts, and you’re “In the house.” Your friends on the app too will get notifications that you’re there, and you can wave with a hand emoji or join them in a video call of up to eight people in one “room” at a time.
The downside of this app is that it can be a bit overwhelming or confusing to those who aren’t familiar with the latest social apps and gaming—but once you get the hang of it, you can do fun (awkward?) things like jumping into any conversation going on.
Anyone who has an iPhone can connect via FaceTime, which is probably the easiest video conferencing app out there to use. (It’s so simple, even your grandma—or your toddler niece—can figure it out!). To make a FaceTime call, you can do one of three things: Use the FaceTime app to type in your contact’s phone number, click the video icon next to their name saved in your contacts, or press the FaceTime icon in the middle of a phone call to switch to video.
The downside is that Android users are left behind on this one, but it does have fun features like the ability to add up to 32 people at once to a group call or use your customized Memoji (on iPhone X or an iPad with Face ID) while you chat.
If you want to have a one-on-one video call with a fellow Android user, you can turn to Google Duo, which is Google’s latest free video chat app. You can’t add any more people to the calls, and they’re encrypted—so some doctors are turning to this app for telemedicine visits, but you can use it anytime you want a call to be extra secure. A fun feature called Knock Knock lets a live video of your face appear on the screen of the person you’re calling as if they’re looking out a peephole to see who’s at the door.
Also owned by Microsoft, Skype has been around for a while and is widely adopted—even among elderly adults. It’s a pretty basic video conferencing tool that works for business chats or connecting with family and friends, but one unique feature it has is subtitles. You can enable them and the program will subtitle your calls in real time, making this a perfect option for calling grandparents who may be hard of hearing or communicating internationally (say, Skyping with a vendor in Italy for your upcoming destination wedding). If you’re using Skype for meetings, you can share files during calls (up to 300MB) and also blur your background to ease distractions.
You need to have an Instagram account to participate, but it’s easy to video chat with up to six people at a time through its direct messaging feature. All you need to do is click on your messages, tap the video icon on the top right of the screen and select the person or group you want to call, who will then receive a notification that you’re ringing them. (Note that anyone you accept a direct message from can video chat with you, so if there’s someone lurking in your DMs that you don’t want calling you, you may choose to block them or mute the conversation.) A bonus feature for users who get bored easily on video calls is that you can continue to scroll Insta while minimizing the video call window.
This is a reliable free option for chatting with up to 50 friends at a time around the world, as there’s no fee for international calling (it just has to be available in their location, as it doesn’t work in all countries yet). You can use Messenger on an iPhone or iPad, Android phone, or on a desktop computer (the company just launched a new desktop Messenger app, too). Once you’ve already started a message with a contact or group of contacts, you simply press the video button to start the chat. You can keep the chat box going on the side of your screen, too, during a video call (perfect for sharing funny memes and links).
The barrier to entry for this video chat is having a Snapchat account, which can be altogether confusing and counterintuitive to figure out. However, if you’re already a pro, jumping onto a free video chat with your friends and family here is a riot: You can have up to 15 friends on a single call and experiment through the endless Face Lenses while on video.