If you’re like me, your family and friends are spread out over several states and even internationally. But, one of the good things that have come out of our shelter in place or self-quarantining orders is that many of us have a little more time on our hands to reach out and catch up. The descriptions of the options below refer to the free version of each of these platforms. The paid versions offer more features.
Depending on the purpose of your chat, some platforms are better suited than others. Zoom surged in popularity once everyone started teleworking, but has been plagued with security concerns in recent weeks. Don’t worry – there are plenty of other options for you to choose from.
My office has been using Jitsi for our team meetings but is a solid option for non-work related chats too. Compatible with Android, Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux systems, you can join a meeting through the Jitsi app or directly from your browser without creating an account – the meeting organizer simply sends a link to the “room” you’ll be meeting in. Users can customize the meeting URL and exchange messages and emojis during the video conference through an integrated chat.
Google Hangouts allows you to video chat with up to 25 people, with up to ten of you visible onscreen at once. It’s arguably the most user-friendly. seamlessly integrates with Google Calendar and Gmail, and doesn’t cap the amount of time you can chat where others set a time limit. Zoom, for example, limits you to 40 minutes if there are three or more people on the call. Google Hangouts has an app on iOS and Android but works just as well on your desktop or laptop. It also
Your family and friends are likely familiar with Facebook’s Messenger app which we primarily used for sending messages. But it also offers a video chat option, making it a solid choice for those who are on the social media platform all the time anyway and may not be comfortable with creating another account or figuring out a different platform. To start a chat, simply go to Messenger, type the names of your Friends you’d like to chat within the “To:” field, then click on the video camera icon in the top right corner. Facebook will call them, all they have to do is answer the call.
If you’re an Apple device user, FaceTime that wants to chat with other Apple users, FaceTime is the way to go. If you have an iPhone, iPad or Mac, it operates seamlessly, letting you start a video chat with up to 32 of your contacts (remember, iOS users only) just as you would a phone call or text message. If your Wi-Fi or data connection is weak or you have a poor phone signal, you have the option to do an audio-only call.
Skype, the granddaddy of them all, is available for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac, offers video and audio calling, and a messaging feature. Its user-friendly interface supports up to 50 people on the same audio call but the number of video callers depends on what device you’re using. You can also record, save and share your video calls, and even incorporate live captions and subtitles.
Houseparty is currently the third most downloaded app on the iOS app store in the United States — behind Zoom and TikTok — and comes top in the United Kingdom. Available on Android, iPadOS (for iPad users) and macOS (for Mac users), the app allows “partygoers” to chat, take quizzes, and play games like “Heads Up,” and “Quick Draw.” Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can add your “friends” via your contacts or by pairing with Facebook or Snapchat. Users can invite up to eight friends to join their a “party” and there is the option to “lock” the party so that only invited guests can join.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.