Video Chat

Woman video chatting with man, image from ShutterstockVideo Chat: a reader asks…

I’ve got a new Windows 10 laptop with a webcam and an Apple iPhone 6s. I would like to do video chat with my friends. Is there one best app or service I should use? I’m on a fixed budget so I don’t want to have to pay a lot for this privilege.

I previously wrote about this in my article Easy Video Phone Calling, but it’s time for an update. When deciding on which of the many video chat options, I think your main point of consideration is what services your friends use, and are they willing to use something new so they can chat with you. Apple’s Facetime is out even though the quality of service is high, simply because Facetime only works on iPhones, iPads and Macs. What you’re looking for is something that’s easy to use and works on any type of smartphone, tablet or computer. Rather than going through the dozens of options, let me point you to the five most-likely candidates:

facebookvidchatFirst, there’s Facebook Video Chat: this is video chat from within Facebook. If all of your friends use Facebook, then it’s an obvious and easy choice. Quality is fairly consistently…fair. Facebook Messenger on iOS and Android handles video chatting, and your web browser handles it on the computer. It’s fairly easy to use, but only works with people who have a Facebook account. Wikihow.com has a great tutorial for how to use Facebook on both computer and smartphone. When you initiate a Facebook video chat, you can see if your friends are online and available or not. If they are, they get notified that you’re trying to reach them. You can only video chat with one person at a time though.

Another easy choice is Skype, because it’s something that most of your friends may already use. Skype’s advantage is that it works for calls to and from regular telephones worldwide (but not for free) as well as video chatting from any smartphone, tablet or computer. Quality varies widely, but is generally only fair. You sign up at Skype.com and install the app on computer, smartphone or tablet. Skype’s video calling is limited not by participants but by time: 4 hours per call, 10 hours per day, or 100 hours per month. Exceed those and the “Fair Usage Policy” kicks in, switching you to audio only. Skype can do group video chats with up to 25 participants (but only up to 9 visible at a time, the rest are audio).

Advertisement

Hangouts-LogoGoogle has a unique and free option with Hangouts, which also works on any platform and can let you video chat with up to 10 of your friends all at the same time. The quality can vary though, from good to poor. Hangouts is an app on your smartphone or tablet, and works in the web browser on your computer. Hangouts integrates video, text and even emoji in your video chats, plus you can screen-share and add funny hats and other graphics to other participants.

Logmein’s Join.me has a free option that lets you video chat with up to five of your friends. There’s an app for smartphone and tablet as well as computer (it also works in the web browser). Quality is generally good to excellent, and this is a nice business alternative to the pricy GotoMeeting.com service. Create a free account at Join.me and install the app on your various devices and you’re good to go. With the free Join.me account, you start a video conference and see a special code (join.me/123-456-789, nine random digits) that you have to give to folks you want to chat with, and they join your conference. This makes it a little more difficult to get a video chat going, but once everybody’s connected, it works pretty smoothly.

google-duo-logoFor one-to-one video chatting on smartphones and tablets only, Google Duo gives you great quality and is very easy to use. If they’d only give us an app that works on Microsoft Windows and Mac computers, it’d be almost perfect. The quality runs from good to excellent with Google Duo, and the controls are dead-simple. I think of this as Google’s answer to Apple’s Facetime, and it is a work in progress, so I expect the platform to be extended to computers quite soon, although possibly as a mashup with the Hangouts app mentioned above.

couple-looking-at-laptop-outside-image-from-shutterstockThere are tons of other video chatting options (Oovoo, Tango, Viber, WeChat and dozens more), but they are more limited in reach and all of your friends are not as likely to use one. But even with the list above, it’s quite possible that there will not be an app or service that every single one of your friends use, so you’ll have to convince some of them to try something new. Personally, I’d go with Duo (for one-to-one video chat) and Hangouts (for group video chat) – it’s likely most of your friends already have a Google account, so they don’t need to sign up for something else to use either.

I should caveat all the above notes about quality with this: quality varies as much by each person’s internet connection as by the vagaries of the internet at any instant in time. The problem is that real-time video takes a lot of bandwidth, and the timing of delivery is critical particularly in syncing up the video and audio. The internet wasn’t really designed for this sort of use, so you may see video freeze from time to time, as well as both video and audio “artifacts”. This can be simply blurred areas on the screen, or maybe your caller sounds like they’re using Auto-Tune or a voice-changing app or device. No matter though, even with these annoyances, video calling is much, much better than audio-only communication. After all, 85% of communication is non-verbal, right?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.