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Best video chat apps in 2021

Best video chat apps
(Image credit: Zoom)

The best video chat apps are a great way to stay social during all those times you can't physically hang out with people. Whether you live across the country from your family, or you're trying to avoid exposure to the Delta variant, video chat apps utilize the magic of the internet to help you bridge the physical gap.

We've rounded up all the best options for people who want to video chat. Whether it's all about staying on top of your professional careers, or maintaining personal relationships. Here are all the best video chat apps you can download and use right now.

What are the best video chat apps?

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.

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, more than any other app in this list, 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

Zoom video call

(Image credit: Zoom)

1. Zoom Meeting

Best all-around video chat and conferencing app

Specifications
Works with: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Web
Maximum free users: Time limit for 3 or more
Reasons to buy
+Good for friends and colleagues alike+Comprehensive feature set+Works on all platforms
Reasons to avoid
-Free tier imposes time limits for 3 or more people

The pandemic proved to be a big deal for Zoom, since it became 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.

Zoom suffered from a number of high-profile security issues in the early days of the pandemic, but things have since changed for the better. Calls are protected by end-to-end encryption, there are new privacy-focussed notifications, and an updated privacy policy makes it clear who can save and share meetings recordings. You can read more about the app's ongoing issues, and measures that have been taken to rectify them, on our Zoom security issues page

Skype video call on laptop

(Image credit: Skype)

2. Skype

Best easy-to-use multiplatform video chat

Specifications
Works with: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Web, Xbox
Maximum free users: 50
Reasons to buy
+Max 50 people allowed on video call+Supports international call and text+Available on all platforms
Reasons to avoid
-Business tier costs money

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.

google duo call on tablet

(Image credit: Google)

3. Google Duo

Best video chat for Android users

Specifications
Works with: iOS, Android, Windows and Mac via web
Maximum free users: 32
Reasons to buy
+Preinstalled on most new Android phones+Easy and fun to use+Completely free
Reasons to avoid
-32 person limit is smaller than most

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.

Discord video chatting

(Image credit: Discord)

4. Discord

Best video chat for gamers

Specifications
Works with: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Web
Maximum free users: 25 on video call; 50 while streaming
Reasons to buy
+Great for gaming+Robust PC and mobile apps
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks more work-friendly features

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 has done exactly that multiple times during the quarantine, 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. 

facetime calls on videos

(Image credit: Vincenzo Pinto/Getty Images)

5. FaceTime

Best video chat app for iPhone users

Specifications
Works with: iOS, Mac
Maxmium free users: 32
Reasons to buy
+Supports up to 32 people on a video call+Built into every iPhone, iPad and Mac+FaceTime Audio makes voice calls easy, too+SharePlay lets you watch or listen to streamed content with other callers
Reasons to avoid
-Android and Windows will only get limited access va a web browser

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 will get very limited access before the end of the year, but only through a web browser.

facebook messenger video calls

(Image credit: Facebook)

6. Facebook Messenger

Best cross-platform FaceTime alternative

Specifications
Works with: iOS, Android, Windows and Mac via web
Maximum free users: 50
Reasons to buy
+Ubiquitous+Available on web and phone+Max 50 people allowed on video call
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks more work-friendly features

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 app on your phone (or are logged into the Facebook Messenger web app on your computer), 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 video calling

(Image credit: WhatsApp)

7. WhatsApp

Another cross-platform video calling solution

Specifications
Works with: iOS, Android
Maximum free users: 50
Reasons to buy
+End-to-end encrypted+50-person group calls
Reasons to avoid
-Video calls currently limited to mobile

WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging alternatives on smartphones today, both because it's a snap to join with only a phone number and because many of your friends and family are probably already using it (or at least have an account).

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. 

The one downside to WhatsApp's video suite is that even though WhatsApp offers desktop and web apps, video chat is limited to mobile app users for the time being. There have been rumors about video calling making its way to WhatsApp's web client, so far that feature hasn't even made its way to the beta version of the app.

At least WhatsApp video calls are 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.

Microsoft Teams group video call

(Image credit: Microsoft)

8. Microsoft Teams

Like Skype, but more professional

Specifications
Works with: Android, iOS, Web, Windows
Maximum free users : 100
Reasons to buy
+Free and paid plans+Office integration+100 person group calls on free tier
Reasons to avoid
-Primarily for business use

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.

How to choose the best video chat app for you

Because all of the best video chat apps are free, you shouldn't be worried about trying different one to find something you like. After all the riskiest thing you might have to do is install the software. 

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 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 it'll have all the basic features you need.

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.

Tom Pritchard

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online. 

  • luccascomvoce
    Telegram was not even mentioned, even though it has video calls with screen broadcast capability, video chats with no time limit and no participant limit. Why ignore an app that's just joined the app club with over 1 billion downloads?
    Reply