Technology

Best Video Apps for Staying in Touch

We rate five video-chat platforms for user-friendliness and security features.

In the era of COVID-19, video-chat programs are having a heyday as friends and relatives reach out to each other to stay connected. We put five popular programs through their paces and rated them on a five-star scale based on accessibility, security, privacy, and bells and whistles. All the programs are free and easy to use, and all encrypt calls, unless otherwise noted.

Skype ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

www.skype.comSkype was one of the first video-chat programs, and it’s still one of the easiest and safest to use. Download the app to your smartphone or computer and, once you have a Skype account, you can start a video meeting and invite Skype contacts or share an automatically generated URL via text or e-mail. You can video chat with up to 25 people and view either a split screen of callers or a screen that automatically displays the primary speaker. Mobile and desktop users can screen-share and record and access subtitles of the conversation. Security is top-notch: Skype notifies participants when a call is being recorded and generates default file names that aren’t easily searchable should the video be posted on the web.

Google Hangouts ★ ★ ★ ★

https://hangouts.google.comIf you’re looking for a program that can meet both social and professional needs, consider Google Hangouts. You’ll need a Google account, but you don’t have to be a G Suite customer in order to access group video chats with up to 25 people. During the call, you can toggle among users to choose which person has the largest display at any time. There is also a text feature on screen, so you can type to chat during the call, but there’s no video-recording feature. Download the Hangouts app for iOS or Android (also available at Google Play).

FaceTime ★ ★ ★ ★

FaceTime, which is included with Apple devices, is a quick and easy way to connect with family and friends, and it supports video chat with up to 32 people. The speaker’s image enlarges automatically during a call, which can help you keep track of who’s talking. The downside: You’ll need an iPhone 6s or newer, or another newer-generation Apple device, to participate in group calls with video. Older devices that support iOS 12.1.4 will join group FaceTime calls as audio participants.

House Party ★ ★ ★ ★

https://app.houseparty.comPopular when it launched in 2016, House Party has made a comeback in the era of social distancing. You can video chat with up to eight people and enjoy such features as on-screen games or screen sharing. Ellen DeGeneres even partnered with House Party to connect her popular game, Heads Up. But the program displays only a grid view, and the privacy policy doesn’t state whether calls are encrypted. You can download House Party for iOS or Android, or go to the website.

Zoom ★ ★ ★

https://zoom.usZoom may come to symbolize the zeitgeist of our shelter-at-home moment. Anyone can sign up for Zoom on its website and download the software to participate in video calls with as many as 100 people. The display is versatile, supporting both grid and primary speaker views. But we gave Zoom fewer stars because the free version has a 40-minute time limit on group calls. And Zoom has had trouble with hackers (known as zoombombers), who have added embarrassing content to group chats. Plus, hosts can record without users’ consent—although the program does notify users when they are being recorded. Thousands of Zoom videos were recently discovered online because saved videos are easily searchable. Encryption is available but must be enabled.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
25 Best Kirkland Products You Should Buy at Costco
Smart Buying

25 Best Kirkland Products You Should Buy at Costco

Many of warehouse club Costco's store-branded Kirkland Signature items get high marks for quality and value. Check out our picks.
July 21, 2021
Warning: You May Have to Pay Back Your Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments
Tax Breaks

Warning: You May Have to Pay Back Your Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments

Unlike stimulus checks, you might have to repay your monthly child tax credit payments if you get too much money from the IRS.
July 16, 2021

Recommended

25 Best Kirkland Products You Should Buy at Costco
Smart Buying

25 Best Kirkland Products You Should Buy at Costco

Many of warehouse club Costco's store-branded Kirkland Signature items get high marks for quality and value. Check out our picks.
July 21, 2021
21 Best and Worst Things to Buy at Aldi
Smart Buying

21 Best and Worst Things to Buy at Aldi

The German supermarket chain is known for low prices, but not every item on Aldi's shelves is a bargain. See our list of the best and worst buys.
July 14, 2021
8 Things You Must Know About Retiring to the Carolinas
retirement

8 Things You Must Know About Retiring to the Carolinas

From the picturesque beach towns to cozy mountain communities, North Carolina and South Carolina offer retirees plenty of incentives.
July 12, 2021
How Much Does Amazon Prime Cost for a Membership?
Amazon Prime

How Much Does Amazon Prime Cost for a Membership?

The annual cost of an Amazon Prime membership has remained steady for both new and renewing members, even with new competition and the surge in busine…
July 9, 2021