As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to limit personal collaboration, most of us rely on video calling to keep in touch with work colleagues, family members, and friends – and if you're also facing financial hardship, free is best. Zoom continues to top the list of video conferencing apps, but there are a number of apps you can use to meet others online for free.
We have listed some of the most popular video conferencing apps as well as some popular text chat apps that include video calling functionality. While most of them already have free versions, some offer access to additional features for those who currently work from home or want to check for friends and relatives online.
There are a number of apps we didn't include like Facebook, WhatsApp, and FaceTime that you can use to video chat. We left them out because they require that all attendees be members of a specific social network (Facebook, WhatsApp) or that you use a specific type of device (FaceTime, Apple only). We also tried to focus on apps that allow you to participate without having to download the app (unless you are the host).
It's a good idea to try one or two for yourself to see how well they go with your style and those of your friends. However, this list is a good place to start.
The most popular video meeting app
The ease of use and numerous features of Zoom made it very popular.
Zoom has become one of the most popular video conferencing apps, largely due to its user-friendly interface. The company originally used Zoom primarily for corporate purposes, but has also made a basic, free version available to individuals as well. Not anticipating its sudden popularity with non-business users, Zoom initially saw several privacy and security missteps. However, the company quickly made a number of changes and updates to address these issues (including end-to-end encryption for its free users). And its popularity doesn't seem to have suffered.
The free version of Zoom allows up to 100 users to meet, but there is a 40-minute limit for meetings of more than two people, which is quite limiting for many of us. At the time of this writing, Zoom didn't have any special offers for those who now work from home, but there is a page that does offer help and advice to new users.
- Accept up to 100 participants
- Unlimited one-on-one calls
- 40 minute limit for group meetings
A long-standing point of contact for online calls
Skype, now part of Microsoft, has added video conferencing to its VoIP capabilities.
Skype has been the platform for one-on-one calls since the beta was released in 2003. The "Meet Now" feature (accessed via the "Meet Now" button on the left side of the app) enables video conferencing. Up to 50 people can meet for meetings with no time limit.
There is also a separate page where you can create a free video meeting without actually having to sign up for the service. However, the app gives you more features. So if you want to register for a free account, you'd better do it.
- Record the call for up to 30 days
- Can blur the background (if you have the app)
- Share presentations
- Up to 50 participants, no time limit
A corporate app with a solid freemium version
Cisco Webex is a popular business conferencing app.
Webex is a video conferencing app that has been around since the 1990s. It was acquired by Cisco in 2007. Although it is mostly known as a business application and continues to focus on taking care of businesses, it has a fairly generous free version that is worth checking out. For the current emergency, the functions of the freemium version have been expanded from 50 to 100 participants, and you can meet for up to 50 minutes.
- Up to 100 participants
- Up to 50 minutes for each meeting
- Can record meetings and save them locally
It will now appear on your Gmail page
Google Meet recently became available to Gmail users.
Until recently, Google Meet (formerly Hangouts Meet) was only available to educators and subscribers to Google's paid G Suite service. Since then, Google Meet has made its free Gmail service available to all users. In fact, it added a link to Meet on the left side of its Gmail online app (and runs it for its mobile apps too).
Meet is a very easy way to video chat with coworkers, friends and family – provided they all have Google Accounts, which is required for both hosts and attendees. To start, just go to Meeting, click Join or Start a Meeting, give the meeting a name (if desired), and send your invitations. You can also use Google Calendar to schedule a meeting. Google offers a number of security features, such as: B. the ability to allow or deny entries.
- Unlimited meeting time until September 30th; afterwards 60-minute limit
- Up to 100 participants
- Provides noise cancellation function
A new mobile version not only for companies
Chats can contain text, photos, and audio.
The teams' video meeting features are simple but effective.
Microsoft Teams was developed as a competitor to Slack and is an especially good idea if you are part of the Office ecosystem. Until recently, the main focus was on business use. However, Microsoft has stepped out of its three-piece suit and has unveiled a free personal version of Teams that works on iPhones and Android devices (not yet a desktop) and allows anyone to chat, talk, or video conferencing with up to 20 people. All you need to do is create an account with Microsoft to use it.
- Create groups of up to 20 people
- Can share your screen
- Text chats can contain photos and audio files
A mobile app that is best for one-on-one conversations
Google Duo has a very simplified web interface.
You don't really expect Google to just offer a simple video conferencing app, do you? In addition to Google Meet (which is slowly replacing Hangouts and was originally primarily intended for business users), Google also has the mobile app Duo, which was developed as a consumer app. The company recently added invite links to Duo as well as a very simple web interface. In addition, you can now use the app to create groups with up to 12 participants (but only in the mobile versions). All attendees must be Duo users, which can be a problem for wider use.
- Can record a message
- Create groups of up to 12 people
- Uses end-to-end encryption
Slowly sunset but still useful
Google Hangouts is slowly sunset, but it's still available when you want to use it.
Finally, there's Google Hangouts, the "classic" version, which is still available even though the company isn't promoting it, especially for G Suite users and corporate customers who are encouraged to use Meet.
If you're feeling old-fashioned, you can use Hangouts to video chat with up to 10 people if you're using Gmail or G Suite Basic (up to 25 if you're using the business or educational G Suite versions) . There aren't many additional features. You can add text messages and share screens, but that's about it. However, if you want to get things done quickly and easily, this is the place to check.
- Up to 10 participants for Gmail users
- Voice calls can have up to 150 participants
A corporate meeting app with a free basic version
Starleaf is an enterprise application that has a free version available.
If you're not a company, you may not have heard of StarLeaf. It is a platform for large companies that does not list a price on its website. You need to call a salesperson. But now it is offering its basic video and messaging product for free to those trying to keep in touch during the pandemic.
- Up to 20 participants
- Forty-six minutes for each meeting
Open source with many functions
Jitsi Meet is an easy-to-use open source video platform.
Another video conferencing app you probably haven't heard of, Jitsi Meet is an open source platform that makes it easy to meet online by simply navigating to the website and clicking "Go". If you're more tech-savvy, you can create your own through Jitsu Videobridge. However, most of the users will be satisfied with the fast web version which has many features found in more popular apps such as: B. Chat, session recording (for Dropbox)) and the ability to "kick out" stubborn participants.
- Up to 75 participants (up to 35 for the best experience)
- Public or private chat
- May blur the background (currently in beta)
- Integrated with Slack, Google Calendar and Office 365
Individual conference rooms with up to four participants
The free version is rather limited, but it has some fun features.
The free version is rather limited compared to some of the others mentioned here. You can use a single meeting room with up to four participants and lock rooms (participants have to “knock” to gain access). Each room has its own URL that you can choose. That's great – provided no one else has already adopted that name. (For example, I tried using where.com/testroom and found it was already taken.) However, it also has a chat feature that lets you share a screen, mute or eject users, and it's fun of emoji. If you have more people in mind, the Pro version ($ 9.99 per month) offers up to 12 participants per room in up to three meeting rooms.
- Up to four participants in the free version
- Split screen
- YouTube integration
- Possibility to "lock" rooms
An email app with a simple video conferencing function
The Spike Vide app has a very simple interface.
Spike is an email app that has added collaboration features since my review last year. Given the current demand for online meetings, the company recently added video conferencing to its repertoire. The feature is very easy to use, especially since you don't need to register or install to use it. Just go to the link for video conferencing, fill in your name and, optionally, a meeting topic. The meeting URL will then be copied to your clipboard or you can send an invitation via email. There are few extras to this app: you can share your screen or stick an emoji on it, but that's about it and the host has no control over the meeting. The number of participants or the meeting time are unlimited.
- Simple interface
- No limitation of participants or meeting times
As noted on this Twitter thread, there are a variety of other Zoom alternatives including RemoteHQ, Talky, Highfive, and 8×8 (which Jitsi acquired in 2018). Some of them don't have a free version. For example, BlueJeans, a more popular option, costs $ 9.99 per month for unlimited meetings with up to 50 participants.
Slack is primarily set up for text chat, but it also gives you the ability to make voice and video calls. If you're using the free version of Slack, you can video call someone. However, if you are hosting a multi-person meeting as opposed to a one-on-one and want to do it for free, you need to look for an alternative.
Of particular note is Houseparty, a popular consumer app that allows up to eight people to chat in a virtual room. In fact, anyone can join a friend's online session without an invitation (although you can "lock" your room to prevent intruders). However, it does require that all participants register in order to use it. The registration includes your name, your e-mail address, your date of birth and your telephone number. That's why we didn't include it in our recommendations.
Update June 12, 9:27 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to reflect 8×8's acquisition of Jitsi in 2018.
Update Aug. 7, 11 a.m. ET: This article was originally published on June 11th and was updated with the "personal" version of Microsoft Teams.