Free & Easy Video Calling

Right now, it is more important than ever to stay in contact with friends and family. In this short guide, we compare different free app and web browser video call solutions that are accessible to not as digitalized folks.

2020-03-31 | Jasmin and Frie

Free & Easy Video Calling

Introduction

With social (or rather: physical) distancing and #stayathome, it is more important than ever to stay in contact with our loved ones. While real visits are mostly off the table, video calls come closest to in-person communication. But connecting to not as digitally advanced people like your grandparents can turn out to be much more difficult than expected: installing an app or creating an account can be really difficult for people who haven’t done this on their own before.

This is why we created this short guide to different app and web browser video call solutions considering compatibtability with different devices, operating systems and internet browsers, ease of setup and technical accessability.

We tested everything out ourselves in an hour-long session using multiple tablets, laptops and smartphones - trying to simulate every scenario possible. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all available tools. Hopefully your scenario is included, too! If not, feel free to drop us an email and we’ll extend this guide!

Overview

Here’s the high-level overview over all solutions we tested. A more detailed description can be found below.

Video Call Solution Device Sim Card required? Operating System Login required? App download required on smartphones & tablets? Main Advantage Main Disadvantage
WhatsApp Smartphone, Tablet yes (unless hacky, but not recommended solution) Android, iOS (iPhones only) yes yes easy calling once set up requires mobile phone number
FaceTime Smartphone, Tablet no iOS yes yes connect to any iOS device via email or phone number iOS only
Signal Smartphone, Tablet yes iOS, Android yes yes encrypted no group video chat
Zoom Smartphone, Tablet, Computer no all host yes, others no yes (also for linux on laptop) easy to start, no login for guests has some privacy issues
jitsi.meet Smartphone, Tablet, Computer no all no yes no login
roundee.io Smartphone, Tablet, Computer no all host yes, others no no no login for guests long loading times, sometimes instable
Skype Smartphone, Tablet, Computer no all app yes, web no yes no login in web version login required in app, no support for Firefox & Safari
Google Hangouts Smartphone, Tablet, Computer no all yes yes can connect all devices with all operating systems requires google account

Classic Options: Messengers

If you have a smartphone or tablet with sim card your go-to options for video calling are the messengers FaceTime (iOS only), WhatsApp, or Signal (no group video chat).

They are easiest and most stable to use and compatible with most devices and operating systems.

If the person you want to call has a Apple iPhone or iPad without sim card, FaceTime still works. For Android devices without a SIM card, there is also the possibility to register for WhatsApp using your landline phone number (German: “Festnetznummer”): you’ll then be called from WhatsApp and a roboter voice will tell you the confirmation code that is needed to complete the registration process. However, this requires to install WhatsApp from a third-party website that offers a “hacked” WhatsApp as APK (google: “WhatsApp APK”), so this is definitely not recommended from a security perspective. Unfortunately, there’s no way to use WhatsApp on an iPad as of now that does not involve downloading shady third-party apps etc.

Web Browser and App Solutions

There are numerous video calling solutions running in internet browsers or with apps. Below, we present a selection of those that are easiest to access and compatible with many different devices and operating systems.

The ones presented here usually work for computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets. For the latter two, they often require to download the app version.

All of the solutions in this section require a web cam as well as newer versions of the respective operating system.

Skype

Website

  • Skype (Browser/Web version or App)
    • Browser version:
      • Start meeting here without creating account
      • Others can join as guests
      • Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome required, does not suppport Firefox nor Safari
      • Does not work in browser on tablets or smartphones -> need to download app and create an account
    • App Version:
      • One person needs to login with an account and can then start a meeting with a shareable link, everybody with link can participate as guest

Zoom

Website

A logged-in host creates a meeting and guests can join without having to create an account or logging in via a shared link. Good call quality, easy to join and compatible with most devices and operating systems. Downside is that the free version only allows session up to 40 minutes but you can simple restart a new session after that time.

  • Pros
    • Good performance
    • No login required
    • Fun options like changing your background to a random picture (only newer Zoom versions)
    • On MacOS and Windows, participating via browser is possible.
  • Cons
    • Free version restricted to 40 minutes (you can restart after)
    • Need to download desktop application on linux operating systems and on smartphones
    • Zoom has a few concerning features & privacy issues, read more about them here

roundee.io

Website

A logged in host names and creates a constant chatroom (it always stays the same) for up to 14 people and invites members to it via a shareable link. The guests can access the room without downloading an application or creating an account. Anyone with the link can join that room, it can be locked for additional participants, however, if a meeting is taking place.

  • Pros
    • No login required
    • Compatible with a lot of browsers, works on tablets & smartphones and laptops
    • Also allows screen sharing and drawing on a virtual white board
  • Cons
    • Does not work with older iOS versions (Safari > 11 required)
    • Does not support Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer
    • Sometimes takes long to load or has a poor connection (sometimes, not all the time and not for everyone)

jitsi.org

Website

Anyone can start a call without logging into an account, everybody else can join via a shared link or by phone (number & meeting ID are provided.)

  • Pros
    • No login required
    • Good call quality with small group of people
  • Cons
    • Not compatible with all browsers
    • Only compatible with newer operating system
    • Requires download of app on smartphones or tablets
    • Sometimes stability problems with larger groups

Google Hangouts

Website

Anyone with a Google account can start a call and invite others via a shared link or email. There is an app and Browser version.

  • Browser
    • Google Account & Login required
    • Compatible with Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer
  • App
    • Google Account & Login required
    • Can connect to both other hangout apps or browser version
    • Available for both iOS and Android

Jasmin and Frie

Jasmin and Frie

Jasmin is a member of CorrelAid since the Meetup in 2017 and takes care of Education & Knowledge Management at CorrelAid. She also hosts our podcast “CorrelTalk – the CorrelAid Podcast”. Frie works as Chief Operating Officer for CorrelAid; she tweets at @ameisen_strasse.