Best video calling apps from Zoom to Whatsapp: how to stay in contact during social distancing

As greater numbers of people self-isolate, video conferencing apps are seeing a surge in demand

Premium

Millions retreating into their homes to escape coronavirus are turning to video calling apps to stay in touch with friends, family members and colleagues. 

But the choice of services on offer can be overwhelming. Should you use Zoom? Is there a limit to how many people you can call on Facebook? And why exactly do millennials love Houseparty? And is it safe? 

We've taken look at the pros and cons of the most popular video conferencing apps available to help you decide which will work for you and your family. 

Houseparty

Pros: 

Houseparty, owned by Fornite developer Epic Games, has spiked in popularity since the coronavirus outbreak. According to App Annie, it recorded 2m downloads worldwide in the last week of March, compared to 130,000 the same time in February. 

The app is free, easy-to-use and hugely popular with the younger generation. That's largely because it offers in-app games and quiz session. The experience is also designed to replicate a real house party, offering a more casual experience than alternative such as Facebook and Whatsapp. 

The app can alert you when contacts come online so organising socialising is a much smoother process. It also allows users to share their screen as they would if sending a screenshot on a messaging app.

 

Cons:

Houseparty has struggled with the surging demand, facing a number of outages while needing to temporarily remove features that have caused a slowdown. 

Users have also raised concerns that their accounts were being used to hack into other online services they're signed up to, such as Netflix, Spotify and PayPal. 

Houseparty has since said it is investigating indications that "the recent hacking rumours were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign” and has offered a $1m (£810,750) bounty to anyone who can track down the source of the problem.

It has also claimed that all accounts are safe and that it does not collect passwords for other sites. 

Zoom

Pros:

By allowing 100 people to join a video conference call, Zoom has soared to the top of the business category in Apple’s App Store in the UK, offering people in self-isolation a chance to tune into regular meetings with large teams.

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson's Cabinet started using Zoom video conferencing. 

For people unfamiliar with video conferencing, an easy to use interface makes it ideal for those having their first experience of remote working.  Zoom also offers the option to stay in touch with friends and family.

Cons: 

Users have complained that the video quality on Zoom can be unpredictable, with video sometimes ending up pixelated and low quality.

The app has also suffered a few technical outages at a time when millions are depending on the tool to get work done. It also may not be ideal for those who want to make longer calls, as there is a 40-minute time limit.

Google Hangouts

Pros:

This app is ideal for getting a video-chat off the ground quickly. Hangouts is linked to your Google account, so if you're an Android or Gmail user, it is likely a lot of your contacts will be quickly accessible for free video-calls.

Google’s service can be used to teach and learn too, offering students and education institutions a means of keeping classes going while schools are closed. 

Google has also made an advanced version of Hangouts free until July.

Cons:

Google Hangouts can be difficult to co-ordinate with people who aren’t on the same system, making it a challenge to use for people looking to just chat to their friends or family as opposed to their co-workers. 

Skype

Pros:

The original video-calling platform, Skype will be the best option for many as even the less technology-savvy members of the family are likely to have an account.

Voice and video-call options are available, as is an instant messaging feature.

Skype is accessible from PC as well as on both iOS and Android mobile devices.

 

Cons:

It may be the oldest, but Skype has always suffered from connectivity problems and your connection could suffer if you have weak Wi-Fi signals. Due to its popularity, the service is also a bigger target for hackers.

Facebook 

Pros:

Facebook video call quality is generally high, with little if any video lag. Sound comes through with little delay, and it is a straightforward video calling platform to use, with the person you are calling taking up most of the screen but you can also see yourself in a thumbnail.

Cons:

If you are calling from a computer, you will need to make sure you have enabled popups as well as your device's camera and laptop for the call to work. You also will already have to be friends with or connected to someone on Facebook to call them.

It also only supports up to eight people on a video call. 

Microsoft Teams

Pros:

The US tech firm has been investing heavily into the service, which brings together chat, video meetings, voice calls and collaboration tools on Office documents. 

Microsoft has lifted user limit restrictions on the free version of the app amid the spread of coronavirus. Last week, the app marked its three-year anniversary with the introduction of new features set to be rolled out over the year, such as noise-suppression of background sounds.

It has been picked up widely in Europe, particularly in Italy where the University of Bologna moved 90pc of its classes onto Teams within four days. 

Cons:

The sudden burst in popularity of Teams in Europe meant it suffered an outage earlier this month that left many people unable to carry out their jobs from home.

The integration of multiple features has left some kinks to be ironed out, as people have complained online that it can be difficult to navigate between different features such as email and video in one place.

WhatsApp 

Pros:

It is free and most contacts on your phone will have it. If a person you want to connect with has the app downloaded, WhatsApp will sync up their number on your phone automatically so you can video call.

Credit: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

 

Cons:

Its video capabilities are limited. Unlike Zoom, which can have as many as 100 people dial into a call, WhatsApp will let you call just 16, making it less than ideal for big teams or families spread across multiple countries. 

Discord

Pros:

A free chat platform initially designed for video gaming communities, Discord allows users to create multiple 'servers' that they can control access to.

Each user has a unique four-digit identification on the platform, as well as being able to connect it to Twitch or Stream gaming accounts so that people can chat over audio or video while they play video games.

Cons:

The most common reports Discord receives from its users relate to harassment. Its latest transparency report reveals it is currently banning millions of accounts to tackle spam on the site. This has sparked concerns about how safe and suitable it is for children.