It’s 2020, and we’re all living in a brand new reality that we mostly associate with blockbuster disaster films. Not anyone’s top pick to be sure, but as long as we’re here, we may as well figure out how to meet one of our most basic human needs: connection with other people.
Many people have realized that seeing their family and friends while social distancing is going to mean using a video conferencing system. Fortunately, there are many available, and some are free of charge to use. Others do have a cost, but let’s face it: you’re going to be spending a lot less money going out than you usually do, so if you care about seeing other people, this may be a worthy investment to make.
Read on for our top recommendations for video conferencing software to help you close the social distancing gap.
Lots of businesses that use a remote/work from home model already use Zoom (including your pals here at the Dot). It offers everything from HD video conferences to a cloud-based phone system. Doctors even use Zoom for telehealth services so they can safely treat patients without any danger of potential exposure.
Zoom has also set up a handy guide with excellent tips on how to thrive during this time, including how to work from home successfully, how Zoom can be helpful in online learning situations, and how to host your own digital event. The service can host up to 100 participants for free so it’s ideal if you’re looking for a way to reach out to a few friends. But if you want to talk for longer than 40 minutes, you’ll need a paid plan.
If Zoom is the new kid in town, Skype’s the old guy everyone’s known for a zillion years. Started in 2003 by a couple of guys from Sweden and Denmark, some of us (ahem, me) were using Skype to video chat before iPhones even existed. Today the service has modernized quite a bit but is still very reliable for making free online calls, hosting online meetings, and HD video chats.
Skype is also available for many platforms–you can use it on desktop, mobile, tablet, Xbox, and even with Alexa. Like Zoom, Skype offers a lot for the free user: HD video calls for solo or group use, messaging complete with emoji, screen sharing, and call recording. It also can encrypt your conversations if you so choose. When you want to make international calls directly from one phone to another, that’s where cost comes in (after a free month) but considering all you can get for free, Skype is a really good tool.
Price: Free-$2.60+ a month
Everyone and their mom has a Gmail account these days so it’s a no-brainer that Google would build something right into it that you can make video calls from. Hangouts Meet is really cool for heavy Google users because it’s connected to every other Google thing you use. So if you use Google calendar and want to send a meeting invite for a video call to someone else, it’s as easy as just a few clicks.
A Basic Hangouts Meet account is $6 a month and lets you add up to 100 people to your conference (and you get a free trial for the first 14 days). For small businesses it goes up to 150 and for Enterprise it’s 250. Whatever your needs, you can probably find a fit here.
Whether you just want a way to see your grandmother face to face or you need to host a webinar for your entire now-remote staff, GoToMeeting can cover you. It offers one-click video meetings you can do from your PC, Mac, or mobile phone and cloud recording so you can take notes later in case you’re commuting. It’s also voice-enabled and works with Siri, so you can just ask to start a meeting and it’ll happen like magic. It also has a handy Office 365 plugin so you can sync up everything from your calendar in a flash.
Like the other options on this list, you can try a free trial of GoToMeeting and then figure out which pricing plan works for you. Depending on your needs, you might be able to get them all covered for a very reasonable price.
Join.Me is a video conferencing tool that allows you to make a custom code that you can easily text or email to people you’d like to invite to your conference. You can also customize your meeting background with a pleasant picture or your company’s logo. It’s the little things, right? You can also make audio calls, share your screen, and use it on desktop or app.
If you want to use it for small friend or family gatherings, there’s a plan which allows up to five users. if you need more you’ll want to look into the Pro and Business plans, which allow up to 250 people to join.