Best free video conferencing apps for virtual meetings and group chat
One of the most useful tools for increasing productivity when it comes to remote working is the ability to chat in groups online like you would in a real-life meeting room. When in-person communication isn’t an option, video conferencing can keep you connected with co-workers and – despite being miles apart – everything feels the same as the office. And the best part is, you can dress however you like from the waist down and your colleagues will never know.
There are numerous applications and platforms for video conferencing and collaboration. Some, such as Cisco WebEx, are industry standards but can be pricey to say the least, meaning they aren’t great options for small businesses or startups. However, many – free or low-cost – alternatives are growing in popularity. Here are some we consider to be the best…
Out of all the video group chat apps, Google Hangouts is probably the easiest and most simple to use. To get going, just share the link to the chat with your friends, or invite them on the app and you’re ready to go. Best of all, it’s all completely free to use with no hidden charges. Another nice touch is that you can use GIFs and emojis within chats, which can spice up conversations. Although, please note that Hangouts is probably more useful for small groups. Any more than five callers and chats can get a little chaotic with multiple people talking over each other at once.
Zoom is widely appreciated as one of the best group video calling platforms out there right now for business users. Quickly accessed from your laptop, desktop, tablet or smartphone, it boasts some pretty intuitive features such as instant messaging, file sharing, whiteboarding, screen sharing, and call recording. However, it’s not completely free. The app allows 40 minutes of video calling at a time with a limit of 100 people per room and from there, it’ll cost per user. After that, the Pro option is £11.99 per month. The Business option (£15.99 per month) is for 300 participants, and Enterprise (£15.99 per month with a minimum of 50 hosts) gets up to 500.
One thing that’s really taken off since people have been self-isolating is Microsoft’s online collaboration tool: Teams, which is part of its Office 365 package. While it’s usually only free during a month trial basis, Microsoft has increased this to six months due to the coronavirus pandemic. In terms of features, Teams can have up to 250 participants in each meeting but limits the screen to displaying a maximum of four screens at once – switching depending on who is talking (loudest). Other features include live captions as well a broadcast function that’s a bit like Facebook Live – allowing anyone to tune in to a demonstration.
Used by a huge amount of startups these days, this popular team chat apps isn’t best known for its group video conferencing tools, however, that’s all changing. Slack added 1-to-1 video calls to its platform in 2017 and since that time has expended this to support up to 15 people at a time. Might not be bursting with features like some rival offerings but it’s very easy to use and more convenient if you;re already using the app regularly.
Group FaceTime makes it easy to chat with multiple people at the same time. You can start a Group FaceTime right from the FaceTime app or from a group conversation in the Messages app. As with most video conferencing apps, the tile of the person speaking gets larger automatically, so you’ll never lose track of the conversation. The only problem here is that FaceTime is limited to Apple device users. And to use the Group FaceTime video call feature, you need iOS 12.1.4 or later. Devices that can only run earlier versions can join Group FaceTime calls but only as audio participants.
Despite being around since 2016, one of the biggest apps on the app stores right now is Houseparty. Available on either iOs, Android, Windows or Mac, the “face-to-face social network” as it calls itself focuses not just on standard video chat, but boasts a host of more fun, interactive features such as quizzes and games to bring people together digitally when they can’t be with each other physically.
Lee Bell – Freelance journalist & copywriter
Lee’s been writing about London’s buzzing tech scene for over eight years. Kick-starting his journalism career in the technology industry at The INQUIRER in 2012, he found his voice in the innovations space, focusing on the latest advances in tech and how they are affecting society.
These days, he’s a freelance journalist and copywriter. He covers news, features and reviews for a host of national print and online lifestyle titles such as GQ, Esquire, Shortlist, Men’s Health, Wired, The Metro, and The Mirror. He specialises in health and fitness innovations, and how the latest tech developments can improve wellbeing.