We now have the technology to see each other when we want to chat. And when it comes to video-calling apps, you’ve got a plethora of options to pick from on phones, laptops, and even TVs. Here are the ones we like the most, ranked.
1) Microsoft Skype
- Available on: web, Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Xbox, Alexa
- Pro: Apps for just about everyone
- Con: Some interface annoyances remain
- Best for: Just about anyone who needs to make video calls
Skype has its annoyances, sure – but considering it’s available on just about every platform out there, is (usually) stable and reliable, and comes with extras like screen-sharing and instant messaging, it stands as our number one choice at the moment. If you throw a bit of money Microsoft’s way, you can even call landlines and mobiles with the app.
With video calling, you can chat with up to 50 different people at once (not that you’d ever want to), and you can make use of an Echo Show or an Xbox if you don’t have a phone or laptop at hand. You get a few cool extra features as well, such as the ability to blur the background behind a speaker (in case your home office is particularly messy).
2) Apple FaceTime
- Available on: macOS, iOS
- Pros: Seamlessly integrated into Apple devices
- Cons: No love for non-Apple devices
- Best for: People who only use Apple devices and only associate with people who use Apple devices
FaceTime is slick, reliable, and easy to use... and it’s also exclusive to Apple devices, which means we can’t put it in the first-place spot. What if your grandparents use Android or your boss uses Windows? Apart from the lack of support for any hardware that isn’t made by Apple, FaceTime is everything you could want from a video calling app.
Group FaceTime is now live as well, of course, which means you can get busy chatting to up to 32 people in the same chat, should you want to subject yourself to that particular kind of nightmare. Apple has thrown in some quirky filters and Memoji stickers, too. And while it might not have some of the ‘power’ features of Skype, the way that it’s built right into iOS and macOS makes it the obvious choice if you’re using Apple hardware.
3) Google Duo
- Available on: web, Android, iOS, Google Nest
- Pros: A breeze to use
- Cons: Not packed with features
- Best for: Those heavily invested in the Google ecosystem
Google doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to social and communication apps, so it’s perhaps something of a surprise that Duo is so good – not necessarily in terms of the number of features it offers, but in how simple it is to use and how reliable the video feed usually is. (No doubt Google’s famous algorithms are at work in the background here).
Alongside Skype, it’s also one of the few video calling apps you can use inside a web browser, making it a good choice for Chromebooks and on computers where you don’t want to install any extra software. Group video chats only support a maximum of eight people, but you can leave video messages and see a video preview before you pick up a call.
4) Signal Messenger
- Available on: Android, iOS
- Pros: Privacy and encryption
- Cons: Rather basic functionality
- Best for: Keeping eavesdroppers out
Signal doesn’t have the polish of some of the other video calling apps here, but its priority is privacy and security, and we like that a lot (take note, Facebook). Video calls are fully encrypted, as you would expect from Signal, and the interface is basic but effective. Video calls are only available on mobile, though – not in Signal’s desktop apps.
As mentioned, only the very basics are available, which fits in with Signal’s minimalist approach overall – you can see a video feed of the person you’re talking to, and that’s about it. Signal doesn’t support group video chats, and there are no fancy filters. But for the privacy-conscious, it’s just about the best video calling app option out there.
5) Facebook Messenger
- Available on: web, Android, iOS, Portal
- Pros: Fits in with your social graph
- Cons: It’s Facebook
- Best for: Not having to install any new apps
If you’re actually happy installing a camera made by Facebook in your living room, then the Portal device is a neat way of turning your TV into a Facebook Messenger video calling device – it’ll even follow you around the room automatically. Which isn’t creepy at all! The Messenger app is available for Android and iOS, too, and it runs through the web if you need it to.
Privacy worries aside, we’ve put Facebook in the middle of our rankings because chances are, a lot of your acquaintances are on the network and have the app installed – for launching a quick and easy video call, that makes a difference. A whopping 50 people can get involved in the same video chat, in case you want to have a virtual family reunion.
6) WhatsApp Messenger
- Available on: Android, iOS, Portal
- Pros: Solid, reliable calling
- Cons: It’s owned by Facebook
- Best for: When all your friends are on WhatsApp
WhatsApp is similar to Facebook Messenger in a lot of ways – you can use it through Portal devices, for example – but it has the downside of being owned and run by Facebook and all that that entails. You can’t access video calling on the web, so it’s a no-go for Chromebooks and browsers, and that puts it slightly below Facebook Messenger in our overall rankings.
In terms of the actual video calling, WhatsApp is a robust and reliable option. And if you’re already using the app to chat to all of your friends through the day, then sliding into video chats is easy enough. Group video chats can feature up to four other people, and there are a multitude of ways to launch calls from inside the app, which we like.
7) Amazon Alexa
- Available on: Amazon Echo Show, Amazon Fire tablets, Android, iOS
- Pros: It just works, and you can use it without a phone
- Cons: You and your friends need to opt into Alexa calling
- Best for: If you live your life through Alexa
Amazon Alexa calling is likely only going to appeal to a small-ish subset of people – primarily those with an Amazon Echo Show or Amazon Fire tablet at home, though the feature can work through the Alexa mobile apps as well. For those of you whose digital lives are Amazon-centric, however, this is actually a decent video calling option. It’s certainly easy to set up and manage, and we found it reliable.
Ideally, you’re going to have an Echo Show and the person you’re calling is going to have an Echo Show, because the Alexa app experience isn’t as good as some of the other apps here. You can even drop in unannounced on family and friends, if they’ve given prior permission for you to do so. Why would anyone do that? No clue – it seems a bit scary to us, but you and your family might be that kind of maniac.
Featured image: Amazon