With one of the best video chat apps at your disposal, face-to-face interaction can easily be a thing of the past. COVID isn't fully gone, and there are plenty of other concerns to make a case for not being in the same room as friends, colleagues or whoever else you need to speak to.
Video chat apps can give you a virtual presence at physical events you can't attend. Heck you don't even have to be in the same time zone thanks to the magic of the internet. Video chat apps bridge the gaps, and keep you connected with the people that matter — all without having to leave the house.
But which service is the one for you? There are plenty of them, and picking the right app is a difficult prospect. Luckily we've rounded up all the best options available, to help you figure out which of the best video apps is the right choice for you.
What are the best video chat apps?
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The best video chat app overall — and one that is especially popular now — is Zoom Meeting, which can be used on desktop and mobile alike.
Zoom comes in free and paid tiers. The free option supports calls of up to 100 participants, though sessions with three or more individuals on the line are limited to 40 minutes. It can even run within a desktop browser window if you don't want to download the app to your machine.
Skype is a good alternative to Zoom. It's a bit easier to use, but also works across various platforms and costs nothing at the outset. It even allows you to call landlines and cell numbers at reasonable rates, supports texting and can conduct real-time translation.
Google Duo is an app that comes preinstalled on the vast majority of Android phones these days, and has essentially become Google's answer to Apple's FaceTime. It's easy to use, just like FaceTime, and offers a quick shortcut to calling Google Home devices built in.
Facebook also has two solutions on offer: Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Both apps' video calling features saw a bump from 8 to 50 participants early on last year. While Messenger requires a Facebook account to use, you can sign up to WhatsApp using your phone number.
As for gamers we recommend using Discord, which features robust apps across mobile and desktop. In fact, Discord is built for streaming games to small groups of people, and the company recently increased the cap on its Go Live free streaming service from 10 to 50 individuals.
Finally if you need space for a lot of people, or a video chat service that offers robust integration with Microsoft Office, then Teams is your best bet. The free tier lets you call with up to 100 people, without Zoom's awkward time limits, while paid tiers increase that number up to 300. The best part is that if you subscribe to Office 365, you probably already have access to one of Teams' premium plans as part of the bundle.
Here's a closer look at all of the best video chat apps.
The best video chat apps you can download today
The pandemic proved to be a big deal for Zoom, cementing its position as the de facto video chat app for a lot of people and businesses — and with good reason. Zoom's extensive feature set and extensive platform support has made it a popular choice across the world. Whether you're on desktop, mobile, or prefer a web client, Zoom offers something for you.
Screen sharing, encryption, and live annotations all come a standard with Zoom, regardless of whether you pay or not. But while a simple one-on-one chat doesn't have any restrictions, having more than three people in a meeting restricts free users to a 40-minute time limit. If you want un restricted access for up to 100 people, you'll need to pay $15 a month for the Pro tier, while the pricier Business tier raises that cap even higher.
Skype has been in the video chat business for a very long time, and still offers a robust set of features for up to 50 people at a time. It also costs absolutely nothing to use, and is available on just about every device you might need to use.
What's more Skype is well known for being able to connect to landlines and basic cell phones, and supports both international calling and texting. You do have to pay for this, but it's especially useful for keeping in touch with friends and family several countries away.
Skype offers a lot of common features too, including screen sharing, live transcription, and in some cases real-time translation of in-chat audio.
While Apple has had Facetime for years, Google's Android operating system lacked its own native equivalent. Instead people had to rely on third party apps that were downloaded from the Play Store, and hope their friends were willing to sign up as well.
Thankfully Duo came along to address that problem, with a video chat app that is remarkably easy to use and accessible within Android's native phone app. What's more, Duo supports a lot of fun features, including the ability to record and send video messages that let you connect with friends and family — even if they're not available at that exact moment.
Duo is even available on iOS, so you can keep in touch with your iPhone-toting friends without having to buy an Apple device for Facetime access. And it even has the same 32 person limit as Facetime, so they don't have much of an excuse to stay away.
Gamers already know Discord as a great resource for connecting with their friends over text, but did you know Discord supports video chat, too? Additionally, because it allows for streaming in the app itself, it's a great way to play some games with friends, by streaming one user's screen content to the rest of the group.
In fact, the Tom's Guide staff did exactly that multiple times during the COVID lockdowns, with one user sharing Quiplash from their PC's display to the rest of us playing along by phone. Thankfully, Discord has even gone so far as to raise its Go Live built-in streaming service from a maximum of 10 people to 50 people temporarily.
If you upgrade to Nitro, which costs $10 per month, you can raise the streaming quality to 1080p/60 fps, up from a max of 720p/30 fps for the free tier.
It's no surprise that FaceTime should appear on this list of the best video chat apps. Apple's software wasn't the first in video chatting, but it was the one that started it all for mobile users, and led the industry toward making video chat easier and more accessible.
Today, FaceTime is preinstalled on all Apple hardware and supports a number of really fun and useful features, from cute Animojis, Memojis and stickers to allowing up to 32 people on a single call. And because FaceTime also has a voice call component — FaceTime Audio — you can easily route calls over data or Wi-Fi whenever you like, where your conversations will sound infinitely better than they do over your cellular provider's voice network.
The only downside to FaceTime is of course that you'll only get the full experience on Apple hardware, including iPhones and Macs. Android and Windows users can join in calls from a web browser, but they can't actually host them. Still it's better than being completely locked out, as was the case before.
The beauty of using Facebook Messenger for video chat is that you're probably already signed up to use it. As long as you have a Facebook account and the Facebook Messenger mobile or web app, you can start video chatting with your Facebook friends right now. Even if you had a Facebook account at one time and have since deactivated it, you can still use Messenger.
Just tap the little video camera icon in the upper-right corner of the screen, and you can start a call with an individual or chat group. And just like Skype, up to 50 people can be present on a Facebook Messenger video call at the same time — a good sight greater than the maximum 32 video chatters supported by Apple's FaceTime and Google Duo.
Plus, even while you video chat, you can still use Facebook Messenger's myriad other functions, like sending chat messages, stickers and so on.
WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging alternatives on smartphones today, both because you can join with only a phone number and because many of your friends and family are probably already using it.
Up until recently, WhatsApp's video calling feature wasn't the most robust out there. But that changed once the max participant limit was raised to 50, thanks to an integration with Facebook Messenger's new Rooms feature.
WhatsApp video calls are also end-to-end encrypted, just like chat messages. In other words, you'll never have to worry about any of your conversations being intercepted by nefarious interlopers.
Previously video calling was also only available on mobile devices, but recently that changed. It is possible to make and receive video calls through WhatsApp's desktop client. Everything works exactly the same way, the only difference if you're using a desktop instead of a mobile device.
While primarily aimed at businesses and professionals, there's still a Microsoft Teams can offer. Especially if you ever plan on getting together in particularly large groups. The free tier lets you have up to 100 people in a call, which should be more than enough for even the largest of family reunions.
Unlike Microsoft-owned Skype, Teams also comes with some professional tools that you may still find useful talking with other. Tools like screensharing, background blur, and noise-suppression software powered by Teams' own AI. It even connects to Office, and is included in an Office 365 plan, in case that's ever relevant outside of the office.
While Teams does have a reputation for being a bit messy, it's usually the professional tier that comes out worse for wear. But if you plan on just using Teams as a video chat app, then you don't need to worry about that too much.
How to choose the best video chat app for you
Because all of the best video chat apps have free tiers, you shouldn't be worried about trying different ones to find something you like. After all the riskiest thing you might have to do is install the software and make a new account.
But if you want to know where to start, the best advice is to take stock of what you need this app for. If you're just looking to chat on your phone alone, Duo, FaceTime or one of Facebook's offerings will suffice.
However, if you and your friends use a number of devices to connect — phones, tablets, computers and so on — or your need is more professional or collaborative, we recommend leaning toward Teams, Zoom, Skype or Discord. These apps are available on every platform, and even though some of them offer paid tiers, you likely won't need to use them. Especially if your head count is small enough, or the length of time you plan to chat is relatively short.
The paid tiers will come with fancier features in many cases, but the free versions are already pretty feature-rich. At the very least you'll have access to all the basic features you need to chat with other people.
Ultimately, you'll probably end up on whatever video chat app your friends and family already prefer using — that's the way these things tend to go. But if you're all in the mood for a replacement, one of the options in this list will hopefully suffice.