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Step by step: how to make a video call on your computer or smartphone

If the latest coronavirus advice means you can’t see friends and family in person, stay in visual contact with Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp

Step by step: how to make a video call on your computer or smartphone

As government advice has us self-isolating, and limiting physical contact with friends and family, tech can play an important role in staying connected. Text messages are invaluable, but you might get more comfort from a video call. 

As long as you have a camera-equipped computer, smartphone or tablet, you can make video calls free of charge to the people who matter the most. Popular services to help you get the job done include Facebook Messenger, Skype and WhatsApp.

Below, we’ve rounded up some video calling apps to help you stay in touch with your loved ones.


  • Find out how video calling software scores for security and quality in our reviews of the best video calling apps.

What you need to make a video call

Whatever device you’re using, you’re going to need it to have a camera.

Using your smartphone for video calling is a great option. Mobiles are lightweight, easy to move from one room to another, and often have front-facing and rear-facing cameras that you can swap between. Most modern tablets will also have a built-in camera.

If you’re using a computer, you’ll need to activate the built-in webcam or purchase a plug-in webcam if that’s not an option. These plug into a USB port and sometimes ship with additional third-party software to help you tweak the picture settings.

There are countless video calling apps available, but we’ve picked out four of the most popular: Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Skype and WhatsApp.

All four services work on smartphones (FaceTime only works on Apple devices, though). If you want to use your computer to video call, your best bets are Skype or Facebook Messenger.

All of these are free to download and use over wi-fi. But note that if you’re using them over a 3G, 4G or 5G connection, you’ll eat into your mobile data allowance.

Crucially, if you’re using an app to video call, the person you’re trying to contact will need the same app.


Our expert lab tests uncover the best gadgets with built-in cameras. See our mobile phone reviews and laptop reviews.


How to make a video call on WhatsApp

Can you make video calls on smartphones? Yes
Can you make video calls on tablets?
No
Can you make video calls on Windows? No
Can you make video calls on Mac? No

WhatsApp is a Facebook-owned service that you can use to transfer files, send texts, voice calls and video calls. You can download it from the Google Play store on Android, or Apple’s App Store if you’re an iOS user.

To create an account with WhatsApp (which is free to use), you’ll need to download the app to your smartphone. From there, open it up and work through the set-up assistant. You’ll need to give the app certain permissions that allow it to import your existing phone contacts.

To make a video call on WhatsApp on your Android smartphone:

  1. Open the WhatsApp app
  2. Tap the speech bubble icon in the bottom-right corner
  3. Select a contact from the list
  4. Press the video camera icon
  5. You should now be in a video call. Tapping the rotate icon (an outline of a camera with circular arrows) will swap which camera you’re broadcasting from, while the microphone button will mute your audio.

To make a video call on WhatsApp on your Apple smartphone:

  1. Open the WhatsApp app
  2. Navigate to the Chats tab
  3. Click the Pencil icon in the top-right corner
  4. Select a contact from the list
  5. Press the video camera icon.

How to make a video call on Skype

Can you make video calls on smartphones? Yes
Can you make video calls on tablets?
Yes
Can you make video calls on Windows? Yes
Can you make video calls on Mac? Yes

Skype was primarily built with desktop in mind – its screen-sharing feature makes it a popular choice for those dealing with work-related video calls and group chats.

But there’s no reason why you can’t try it out on smartphones and tablets to chat to your loved ones as well. It’s free to download, but you’ll need to create a Skype account to get started.

To make a call, Skype will need access to your microphone. If your microphone and camera need configuring, go to the main Skype menu, tap the three dots, then select Settings > Audio & Video.

To make a Skype video call on your computer:

  1. Open the Skype app on your desktop
  2. Click the Calls icon and select + call
  3. Search for a contact to chat with
  4. Select your contact and click call
  5. With your audio call running, select the video camera to open up your webcam.

During a call, you can mute or unmute your sound at any time by selecting the microphone icon.

How to make a video call on FaceTime

Can you make video calls on smartphones? Yes – iPhone models only (iPhone 4 or later)
Can you make video calls on tablets?
Yes – iPad models only (iPad Pro, iPad 2 or later, iPad mini)
Can you make video calls on Windows? No
Can you make video calls on Mac? Yes

FaceTime comes pre-installed on the majority of Apple devices. If you and the person you want to video call both own an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Mac, it’s a sensible option.

To make a FaceTime call on your mobile device:

  1. Open the FaceTime app and sign in with your Apple ID. If you’re using an iPhone, FaceTime will automatically register your phone number. iPad and iPod Touch users will need to use an email address
  2. In the FaceTime app, tap the ‘+’ button
  3. Type the phone number or email address of the person you’re contacting
  4. Select Audio (phone icon) or Video (camera icon).

You can also activate your device’s camera through a normal phone call. While the other person is still on the line, tap the FaceTime icon in the Phone app to switch to FaceTime.

Here are the steps to run through if you’re looking to use FaceTime on a Mac:

  1. Open the FaceTime app and sign in with your Apple ID
  2. Use the search field to enter an email address or phone number
  3. Select Audio (phone icon) or Video (camera icon).

If you have Apple’s willing Siri assistant installed on your Mac, try saying ‘FaceTime [contact name]’.

How to make a video call on Facebook Messenger

Can you make video calls on smartphones? Yes
Can you make video calls on tablets?
Yes
Can you make video calls on Windows? Yes
Can you make video calls on Mac? Yes

If you already use Facebook on your smartphone, the free-to-download Messenger service is just a single tap away. You can reach it by selecting the chat bubble on the top-right corner of your homepage.

Although both apps are owned by the same company, Messenger is separate to Facebook. Therefore, you’ll need to download it for free from the Google Play store or Apple’s App Store.

To make a video call on Facebook Messenger from your Android or iOS smartphone:

  1. Open the Messenger app
  2. Under the Chats menu, tap the Pencil icon in the top-right corner
  3. Type the name of the Facebook contact you want to call and tap their picture
  4. Select the video camera icon to start a video call.

While in a Facebook Messenger call, you can rotate your camera, mute your audio or add another contact into the chat.

If you have Facebook open on a PC or Mac, click the chat bubble in the top-right corner and select New message. Select your contact and a new chat bubble will pop up. From there, select the video camera icon to start a video call.

Making a group video call

Many chat services will let you make a video call with several different contacts at the same time. This is a great option if you want to catch up with family members that are spread around different locations.

It’s not quite the same as a proper family gathering, but at a time when many UK households are in isolation, it’s a great way to have a virtual get-together.

All of the services we’ve listed in our article support group video calling.

  • WhatsApp Up to four contacts. In an ongoing video call, select Add Participant.
  • Skype Up to 50 contacts. In an ongoing video call, select the ‘+’ icon.
  • FaceTime Up to 32 contacts. During a FaceTime call, select Add Person.
  • Facebook Messenger Up to six contacts. In an ongoing video call, select the ‘+’ icon.

 

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