The outbreak of COVID-19 — the new coronavirus that originated in China and has claimed more than 4,000 lives in the past three months — has led companies to implement work from home policies, and many people to cancel travel plans and generally stay home when they can. But staying home still may mean you need to get work done, or want to communicate with friends and family. Thankfully, there are several solid video chatting and conferencing apps available that can help you keep in touch with everyone you need to — many of which are free.
It should be noted that most of these apps have seen security-related issues in the past, which the companies that own them (including Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google) have since patched.
While the videoconferencing app or service you use for work likely depends on what your company has signed off on, if you’re looking for a good option, check out the following seven free videoconferencing apps.
Best for calling friends (on Apple devices)
FaceTime is Apple’s proprietary video calling app. If you have an iPhone, iPad or Mac, it operates seamlessly, letting you start a video chat with any of your contacts (so long as they are also Apple device users) the same way you would a phone call or text message. While FaceTime’s primary purpose is video chatting, as its name suggests, you can also do audio-only calls if you’re in a place with a Wi-Fi or data connection but poor phone signal. With the release of iOS 12 in 2018, Apple also added a Group FaceTime option, allowing you to chat with up to 32 people at once — assuming they all have Apple devices, of course.
Best for calling friends (on mobile devices)
The Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users worldwide. It’s easy to use, and works on Android and iOS devices. WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption, which means that only you and the person you’re sending a message to can read what you send. You can use it to send messages, or make video or audio calls. Its global popularity makes it a great option for keeping in touch with family and friends worldwide.
Best for group chats
Skype — owned by Microsoft — is available for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac, and offers video and audio calling, as well as a messaging feature. It has an easy-to-use interface, and supports up to 50 people on the same audio call (the number of video callers depends on what device you’re using, according to the company). Skype also lets you record, save and share your video calls, and has live captions and subtitles.
Best for sending video messages
If you want to video chat with someone but can’t do so in real time — perhaps they have a busy work schedule, or live in another time zone — Marco Polo is the app for you. You can send video messages to individuals or group chats, which the other parties can watch and respond to at their leisure. Unlike Snapchat, Marco Polo saves all of your video messages so you can revisit conversations, and doesn’t limit your video time. You can also add fun filters and voice effects if you want to mix up your conversations.
Best for Facebook addicts
Facebook’s Messenger app is primarily used for sending messages, but also includes a video chat option, making it a convenient choice for those who are on the social media platform all the time anyway. If the person you want to talk to is also a Facebook Messenger user, you can initiate a video or audio call with them through the app. And like on Facebook’s main app and Instagram, you can also add a temporary photo or video to your Story on Facebook Messenger.
Best for business purposes
Zoom offers video and audio conferencing, chat and webinar features across mobile devices, desktops, phones and room systems. It offers a free basic tier that allows you to host up to 100 participants and unlimited one-to-one meetings. It does place a 40-minute limit on group meetings, however. Zoom also has small and medium business versions, as well as an enterprise version, which cost $20 a month per host. If your organization does not use any videoconferencing service and you’re looking for a professional option while you’re working from home, at least in the short term, Zoom could be a good one for you.
Best for Google and G Suite users
Google Hangouts Meet
Google’s Hangouts Meet is a videoconferencing tool integrated into the G Suite platform that allows people to hop on meetings via a web link through their laptop or mobile app, or a phone line. If your organization uses G Suite, you can create that link directly through a Google Calendar invite. It’s a solid free option for easy business chats if you already use G Suite.