Everyone agrees face-to-face, in-person conversations are the best way to bond with friends and family. But they’re not always easy to pull off. Even before the travel concerns brought about by COVID-19, it took time, money and effort to visit loved ones living in different cities and states.
Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of technology, we can connect with many of the people we care about without having to plan — or pay for — a trip. All we have to do is download a video-conferencing app.
These tools, which enable users to connect via audio and video, have been used by corporations for years. They’ve also gained popularity in the medical field, allowing patients to meet with doctors from the comfort of their homes.
Now you can use these same tools to connect with loved ones who live down the street or on the other side of the world. Here are a few of the most popular video-conferencing services, all of which offer a free plan for everyday users.
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Launched in 2003, Skype is one of the oldest video-conferencing tools. Currently, its group video-conferencing service allows up to 50 people to connect for free. In between video calls, you can send messages, photos and links with others who have the app.
Skype’s real-time closed captioning services make it a great option for those who have a hard time hearing others on calls.
Google Meet is the updated version of the popular Hangouts app. Anyone with a Google account can invite up to 100 participants to meet for free for an hour. For just $10/month, you can enable longer video calls.
Like Skype, Google Meet offers real-time closed captioning. Want to invite someone who doesn’t have a Google account to the video call? Simply send them the meeting link and they’ll be able to join.
Zoom has gained popularity in recent years thanks to its high-quality HD video and audio services. Zoom’s free plan allows an unlimited number of one-to-one video calls. Group video calls are free for up to 40 minutes. Want to extend the time limit? That will cost just $14.99/month.
One of Zoom’s most popular features is its library of virtual backgrounds. You can look like you’re joining the call from a spot overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge or even outer space. You can also upload custom images, like a photo from your family’s favorite vacation spot.
FaceTime is Apple’s proprietary video-conferencing service. It comes preloaded on every iPhone, iPad and Apple computer. All you have to do is find the person you want to call in your contacts and, as long as they have an Apple device, there will be an option to connect via FaceTime. You can also switch to FaceTime video during a “regular” call.
Up to 32 people can participate in a FaceTime video call. The only drawback is every user must have an Apple device to participate.
Houseparty is perhaps the most fun video-conferencing tool, though it takes a few trial runs to get the hang of all the features. Once you do, you can set up video-conferencing “rooms” where up to eight people can connect for free.
One of the best features of Houseparty is the wide selection of games that are built into the app. Just click the dice in the upper right-hand corner and you’ll be able to challenge other callers to a round of Uno. Houseparty also offers custom versions of popular games like Pictionary and Apples to Apples.
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