Six Video-Call Apps That’ll Help You Stay Connected
Society is experiencing lifestyle adjustments of late: restaurants and bars in New York City are offering cocktails to go, people are panic shopping (please stop with the toilet paper) and many of us are working remotely for the first time. Though we can breathlessly argue the perils of globalisation that brought us to this point, we should also count our blessings on the technological front. Connectivity, for instance, has never been more prolific, glitch-free and engaging, which has helped immensely with distributing vital information. Video-conferencing was still the stuff of science fiction just over a decade ago. Now we’re able to seamlessly connect face-to-face with colleagues on every corner of the globe. You might consider this an overstatement, but think back to the distant year of 2010 when dialling into a conference call required at least two 15-digit pin numbers and a delayed, foggy connection at best.
Now, there are nearly a dozen video-chat services available at your fingertips that extend beyond business calls. But keep in mind; not all apps are created equal. Just imagine trying to get your beloved Boomer parents onto something called Houseparty. In the name of public service and productivity, we’ve analysed and decoded the best video-conference platforms on the market so you can (hopefully) avoid countless minutes lost to technical difficulties and focus on restoring your social life.
01. For actually getting work done: Zoom
There’s been a veritable Zoom boom over the past few weeks, with work-from-home edicts driving triple-digit growth on the platform and more than 600,000 downloads in a single day. The runaway success can be credited to an easy user interface, a free plan that can accommodate up to 100 simultaneous users and all the bells and whistles you could ask for. Chief among these functions include screen-sharing, live annotations, the ability to record and accessibility via computer or phone. Then there are the next-level features that blow the competition out of the water, like custom virtual backgrounds (still or moving) and a beautification filter subtly labelled as “Touch Up My Appearance”. Going back to office meetings IRL will pale in comparison.
02. For checking in with family of a certain age: FaceTime
Remember teaching your parents how to use an iPad? Let’s never endure that again. Now that they’ve gotten the hang of navigating the intricacies of iOS, FaceTiming should be a breeze, especially since it comes preloaded on just about every Apple product (although video compatibility does become an issue on older models). The interface itself is extremely user-friendly, with a few self-explanatory buttons at your disposal. There are a few features that are, honestly, pretty inconsequential, like random animated stickers, pointless filters and Memojis – but fun if you’re trying to spice things up after a few weeks in isolation. If you’re dealing with a large group on a small screen or you’re tired of holding a phone up, use AirPlay to broadcast the call via Apple TV.
03. For staying connected overseas: Skype
When it comes to staying in touch with friends and family abroad, WhatsApp would normally be your go-to. With more than 1.6 billion global users, it’s by far the most popular messenger service out there. Despite its near-universal international acceptance, there is a downside: group video calls only allow up to four concurrent users at a time. Another option would be Skype, which is still relatively well-known, boasting 300 million monthly users. The added bonus here is the real-time voice translator that’s available in 10 languages. It really comes in handy when chatting with, oh say, your Spanish-speaking in-laws, as you haven’t opened Duolingo in a year.
04. For keeping your social life alive: Houseparty
This one’s geared toward social interaction over productivity, so it’s hard to pit Houseparty against Zoom or Skype. However, it does serve a very important purpose: killing time with your friends when physical interaction isn’t an option. Houseparty offers a slew of games, such as the Pictionary-esque “Quick, Draw!”, “Heads Up!” and trivia. It’s limited to eight people per group, which is probably more than enough without things spiralling out of control. Finding your friends is incredibly easy with Facebook and Snapchat integration. For those missing out on all the fun, you can send recorded clips of your games via Facemail.
05. For the G-Suite loyalist: Google Duo
Sticking with the company modus operandi, Google Duo touts simplicity over everything else. The slick interface can be used across multiple platforms or installed as a Chrome extension for fast access. Plus, all you need to get started is a Google account, so there’s no need to deal with an extensive sign-up process and yet another set of login credentials to add to your collection. Google Duo can also be used on your Google Nest Hub, making your smart house even smarter. The one downside is that group calls aren’t the most intuitive; in fact, you can’t add anyone to a call already in progress. On the bright side, Google Duo’s low-light mode makes late-night chats much more palatable, and the AR filters put FaceTime stickers to shame.
06. For avoiding webcam face: Squad
Let’s be honest: most of us aren’t taking the time to fix up our hair or wear trousers while we’re in isolation mode (though both are highly recommended). If that’s the case, it’s safe to say you’d rather not have a webcam shoved in your face highlighting all your not-so-flattering angles. Squad is a new app that offers an alternative to webcam convos and focuses on screen-sharing. Users within a group can toggle between screens without being forced to stare into your friends’ nostrils. As a function, it’s nestled somewhere between a phone call and video chat. You can watch YouTube videos together while providing live commentary, browse the web or confab on what’s going on in each other’s DMs. It may seem pointless at first, but desperate times call for desperate socialising.
Illustrations by Mr Joe McKendry