(Pocket-lint) – With huge numbers of us now working from home and spending more time in the house, there’s never been more demand for video calling apps to keep us all connected.
Despite a solid video app quickly becoming a modern-day necessity, though, there are tons vying for your attention. Some of these have become household names over the last couple of years, but there are actually many examples of apps that offer instant messaging and video chat, among other features.
In this guide, we’ll give you a quick summary of what each does and doesn’t offer, and help you find the best free video calling app for your needs.
Every app in this list is available across multiple platforms, with the exception of Apple’s FaceTime – this is restricted to Apple devices.
Best video calling apps you can download
Best for Facebook devotees
Facebook has streamlined Messenger, which has been separate from the main Facebook app for several years now. Messenger is used by many individuals and businesses for communication and you can even use it without a Facebook account. Messenger is also set to support Instagram messaging, too, shortly.
You can video or voice chat with an individual or a group very easily. Need to know how to use it for video calling? Check out: How to video call on Facebook Messenger
Messenger also has recently announced Messenger Rooms, a way to join group video calls with up to 50 people – yes, it’s like Zoom or Skype.
Best for large group/workplace video conferencing
Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing service you can use to virtually meet with others – either by video or audio-only or both, all while conducting live chats – and it lets you record those sessions to view later.
A Zoom Meeting is a video conferencing meeting that’s hosted using Zoom while a Zoom Room is a physical hardware that companies can install in meeting rooms.
One of the best features is the Gallery view, so you can have everybody on screen at the same time – even if you have tens of participants.
If you want to know if you’re in good company when using Zoom, you are: over half of Fortune 500 companies reportedly used Zoom in 2019 and in 2021, it’s reached a huge 300 million daily meeting participants.
Best for small group calls – up to eight people
Facebook-owned WhatsApp may well be second to Messenger in North America, but, from a global perspective, it sits atop the pile. It has over two billion users worldwide, which is quite an incredible reach for an app that started as a paid-for premium offering.
WhatsApp’s strength, outside of just having mountains of users already embedded, is that it is easy to make new group chats and search for messages in the past. You can also see when messages are received and read and it’s great with media.
It can be used for video and voice calls. You can start a call with one individual and then add other participants easily. The limit on group video calls is now eight.
Best for Apple-to-Apple calls
We don’t know how many users FaceTime video has, but it’s massive between Apple users and you can easily flip back and forth between video and voice.
Of course, being Apple-only is a disadvantage not shared by any of the other apps here, but it is available across both iOS and macOS.
As well as individual calls, you can now easily make a Group FaceTime call – if everyone you’re talking to is on an Apple device, it’s mega easy to sort out.
Best for G Suite users
While Google Duo (below) is more of a one-to-one solution, Google Meet is Google’s option for video calling and sits alongside Google Chat. It does have a separate app, but most people who use it are customers of Google’s G Suite, which is basically Gmail, Calendar and Docs but for business.
You can start meetings from Gmail or Google Calendar and you can video chat with individuals, conference or just text chat.
Google Meet now has a Tiled option so you can view a group of users just like you can in Zoom.
Best for cross-device calling across PCs, Macs and mobile devices
Microsoft-owned Skype remains one of the most ubiquitous ways to make a video call and as such it’s a good option just because so many people have it. As well as PC and Mac, it’s also available for iOS and Android of course.
As in Zoom, you can also change your Skype background.
It also integrates nicely with Office 365 and if you use this for work you’ll be familiar with Skype for Business.
Best for perpetual office chat and one-to-one calling
Slack is a little different to the competition as it’s more of an open platform. It works as a central place for communication that pulls in third-party apps to make it work. Slack’s voice and video calling has recently received a leg-up from Amazon’s Chime meeting service.
Slack is meant for team communication – we use it here at Pocket-lint – and is a great way to share files (it also integrates with Google Drive or Dropbox). The free version enables you to make calls but only one-to-one; you need a paid subscription to call a group (and it’s expensive). It’s also been redesigned recently to make it easier to use.
Another great feature of Slack is its ability to search entire conversations for certain words so finding what’s been talked about is easy. The app is iOS and Android friendly and autocompletes friends’ names making tagging them simple.
A WhatsApp alternative for easy calling between devices
Google Duo is free to use, enables one-to-one video and voice calls and it works across both iOS and Android devices – unlike Apple’s FaceTime. It’s primarily an app for consumers rather than business – Google Meet and Chat are Google’s work calling solution.
Like WhatsApp. Duo relies on your number, lets you reach people in your phone’s contacts list, offers end-to-end encryption, and has nifty features like Knock Knock, which allows you to see live video of your caller before you answer.
Another great Skype alternative
WeChat is being hailed as the one-stop-shop alternative to most communication apps. It’s like combining text, Skype, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram into one app.
WeChat enables you to share photos and videos directly with other users or they can be posted to their profile, like the Facebook wall. Another feature, called Shake, allows users to find others nearby to chat locally.
WeChat also allows voice chat, group chat, video chat and emoticon sharing. And it’s all free to download.
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Writing by Conor Allison.