After one full year of endless virtual meetings/hangouts, I’ve used my fair share of video call apps. Here is my in-depth review of all the apps that I have had experience using.
We cannot talk about video chat apps without talking about Zoom. This has become THE video conferencing app of the pandemic. We’ve seen it used synonymously to mean video chat (similar to how people say Q-tip for cotton swabs and Kleenex for facial tissue). Whether it’s for business or personal use, most people are familiar with Zoom. It is easy to use. It’s free. You don’t even need to sign up for an account. You just need to click on a link. You can use it on a web browser or using their app. They have lots of functions such as scheduling, virtual backgrounds, chat, raise hand, share screen, and record. You can also host webinars on it with a Q&A function. The one major downside of it is that group meetings are limited to 40 minutes. Sometimes this time gets magically extended to be unlimited; however, for the most part, the meeting with kick you out after 40 minutes. Tip: you can just ask your attendees to click on the same link again after you get kicked out to resume your meeting. This is not ideal for professional meetings so paying for the Pro version ($200 CAD/year) or using other apps are probably more appropriate. There were concerns about security with this app initially but they have added the options to have a waiting room, set a passcode, and lock the meeting since to mitigate these risks.
One app that my friends and I have been using a lot of is Google Meet. Over the years, Google has many different video chat options. They had Google Hangouts which has been phased out, as well as Google Duo which I’ve personally never used, then there is Google Meet, which was originally only available to paying G Suite users. Now it’s free to use for everyone with a Google account with no time limit for up to 100 people. It is also very easy to use by just clicking a link and the ability join over a web browser. It has pretty basic functions such as the ability to chat. It only recently added the virtual background option. If you pay for the Business or Enterprise versions, there are additional functions. Even though the free version doesn’t seem as robust as Zoom, one major advantage is its 24 hour meeting duration which is a huge plus since most events/meetings/hangouts last longer than 40 minutes.
FaceTime was once THE video chat app. I still recall the time when people would say “FaceTime me” to mean “let’s do a video call”. This is still a good option for family and friends who you know also uses an Apple device and you can easily call them using your contacts just as you would call their phone. Functionality is limited though. There is no scheduling of calls or other bells and whistles. In a group chat setting, sometimes members of the group would not get a notification and are unable to join properly. If there is a call ongoing, sometimes you can join in and sometimes there isn’t an option to join in. It’s really hit or miss and disappointing. Once in, you can’t change the lay out. The most likely scenario I would use FaceTime if I just want to do a quick video call with maybe one other person who happens to own an iPhone.
Social Media/Messenger Apps
Facebook Messenger also has a built in video/audio call function. You can easily call another person or a group of people by tapping on the phone/video call icon in your chat box. It’s relatively hassle-free and those in the group can use to pick up or not to join the conversation. They also have a “Create Room” option where you can invite up to 50 people to join a call with no time limit, including those who do not have a Facebook account, but I have yet used this. I’ve only used their call function a couple of times when I happen to be chatting with people and wanted to switch over to a video call quickly. I don’t think it has many functions but it got the work done.
Similar to Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp also has a built in video/audio call function as a part of its chats. Functionality is also similar to Facebook and I’ve also used it a handful of times when I happen to be need to video call some friends who happen to be part of a chat group on WhatsApp. Since they are owned by Facebook, you can also use the Facebook “Create Room” option through their web interface/app.
Skype was probably one of the original video chat apps but it appears to have been outshone by all the newcomers, at least in my social circle. There were many limitations to this older app. My understanding was that you needed a specific Microsoft account with them, then you need to add the attendee(s) as a friend, then you will need to use their specific app to make a call. There were just too many obstacles to make this easily accessible. On further research, apparently, they now have a “Meet Now” option now where you can just create a link without the need to sign up or download any apps but I have yet to try this. They also used to have a Skype for Business option which has since been replaced by MS Teams.
Those who work for a larger organization would have probably used MS Teams. This is a very robust solution which functions as a Slack-like platform with multiple groups/channels for announcements, instant messaging, as well as a place to share files and documents and finally to host video conferences/meetings and quickly make video/audio calls. It definitely has all the usual functions such as chats, screen sharing, virtual backgrounds, as well as special functions such as break out rooms for larger events. In order to use the full Teams function, the business would need to purchase a Microsoft 365 package, otherwise, the meetings are limited to 60 minutes and have other functional limitations. This is definitely a good option for businesses, which needs a more professional solution. I haven’t used it for personal purposes.
This is an app that I have seen used in many webinars that I’ve attended in the past. At the beginning of this pandemic, they offered free unlimited meetings so I also used it to successfully host a 2-day virtual educational workshop. Since then they have implemented a 50-minute meeting length limit for up to 100 participants. It has all the basic webinar functions such as chat, raise hand, screen share, mute all, recording and virtual background. For longer meetings, the plans start at $17.95 CAD/month. Their customer support is also pretty good based on my experience. If you are looking for a conferencing app for work and don’t need all the collaborative functions of MS Teams, then this is a good option.
This is another app that I have used to attend webinars. I have yet to host a session on this. It is more of a business solution with its starter package priced at a hefty $134/month. It seems to have a lot of good reporting, polling and other webinar specific functions which might be useful for those who need a specialized webinar solution rather than a simple video chat app.
|App||Zoom||Google Meet||FaceTime||WhatsApp**||Skype||MS Teams||Cisco WebEx||GoToWebinar|
|Account required||No||Yes||Yes||Not for “Create Room” option||Yes||No||No but requires email linked to organization for full collaborative features||No||No|
|Web browser vs. In-app||Both||Both||App only||Both||App only||Both||Both||Both||Both|
|Number of attendees*||100||100||32||50||8||100||100||100||No free version|
|Time Limit*||40 mins||24 hours (Until June 28, 2021, then 1 hour)||None||None||None||24 hours||60 mins||50 mins||No free version|
|Functions*||Chat, virtual backgrounds, scheduling, raise hand, screen share, record||Chat, virtual background, scheduling, screen share||None||Chat, virtual backgrounds, screen share||Chat||Chat, blur background, screen share, record||Chat, virtual background, scheduling, screen share, file share, break out rooms||Chat, virtual backgrounds, scheduling, screen share, raise hand, polling, record, break out rooms||No free version|
|Cost for premium plans||Starting at $200 CAD/year||Starting at $8 USD per active user/month||n/a||n/a||n/a||See MS Teams||Starting at $6.40 CAD user/month||Starting at $17.95 CAD|
per host, per month
|Starting at $134 CAD/month|
**Option to use Create Room Function using Facebook platform
Regardless of which is your preferred app, the app you would ultimately use has a lot to do with what accounts and preferences your employer, friends, and family have. To link this back post to my joys of food and eating, in the past year, we have been required to be more creative with regards to hosting social events with friends and family. Need some ideas?
- Try hosting a virtual dinner club, where the host can provide instructions on how to cook the same meal virtually and enjoy the fruits of your labour together at the end of the evening.
- You can also have a dinner date with friends by ordering some food separately and eating it together on a video call. If it’s a special occasion, you can order food for your loved ones through sending an e-transfer, UberEats gift card or UberEats now also has a sharing feature to directly order food for others. You can even order a special snack box for you and loved one (e.g. Bokksu) and do an unboxing and MukBang together.
- After your meal, you can also play some online games (e.g. JackBox games, Nintendo Switch online games such as Mario Kart and Overcooked, other online games such as https://skribbl.io/, and Among Us, etc.) You can also host a virtual movie night with Teleparty (https://www.netflixparty.com/).
Whatever the occasion, with a little bit of imagination and planning, you can still try to be social and enjoy some nom noms with friends and family during these isolating times.
Happy video chatting!