MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020)
As soon as social distancing started, video calling became one of the best ways to stay in touch with loved ones.
New names, such as Zoom and Jitsi, have grown in popularity, and older services like Skype and Google Hangouts are still available, whether you use Gmail or Outlook for your emails.
To find out which are the best, we’ve run 11 different video calling apps through our lab tests to help you decide which one to use for your video catch-ups – whether that’s for work or play.
We cover a wide range of criteria in our video calling lab tests to make sure you can be confident about the app you’re using:
In the table below we reveal the apps that are best for using at home. These all have free versions, and you don’t need a business account to use them.
|Video calling app||Speech quality||Video quality||Speech with throttling||Video with throttling||Ease of use||Score|
It might be an oldie, but it’s a goodie. Skype has been around long enough for years of development, and it’s topped our tests. It’s a great free platform for home use, with consistently good audio and video quality. You can sign in with an existing Outlook email account, or set one up. Plus, there’s now a web feature, so you can set up a call without even downloading anything.
There’s a wide array of useful and fun features – such as a virtual background, so you can pretend you’re at the beach (or wherever takes your fancy), and speech recognition subtitles for poor audio or people with impaired hearing. Skype is free with support for up to 50 people, although you'll have to buy Skype credits if you want to call a regular landline or mobile phone number.
You might not have heard of Jitsi, but it’s software that's often used by schools. It did really well when it comes to a patchy network, so if you struggle with your internet, it’s a good choice. It’s free and you don’t need to sign up – which is really good for data protection.
We did find it a bit tricky to use, though, but this shouldn’t put you off. You create a meeting by choosing a name for it. You can then share the name around to whoever you want to join. It’s a bit like creating a WhatsApp group. Jitsi is free with support for up to 75 people.
Another good option is Discord, which is mostly used for gaming, but its chat and video calling features are good enough for any virtual meet-up. You can create a chat group with the same people, handy if you have a book club or gardening group.
Video is good if your internet drops out for a bit, but, as with even the best software, quality will be noticeably worse with slow connections. Discord is free with support for up to 25 people to join a video call.
If you’re a Gmail user, Hangouts is another option. Even though there’s no download (it works on the website or as a browser plugin), it’s not the easiest to use. It also struggles to keep video clear with a poor connection, but it’s fine with good internet.
It’s worth noting that Google has since released Google Meet (a slightly different service, below). This will eventually replace Hangouts completely. Google Hangouts supports up to 25 participants on a video call.
Google's free version of Meet offers acceptable quality, but video isn't as good as others. That said, it copes better than some with a patchy connection and adjusting the settings is simple. It works in-browser and on the Android and iOS mobile apps. If you want to sign up with an email account which isn't Gmail, you'll have do to so on the web interface.
It’s a bit lacking when it comes to features. The free version allows 100 participants, but you can't make use of extra functions such as meeting recording unless you pay for a Google Workspace Business Standard, Plus or Enterprise account. These start at £8.28 per user, per month.
Despite the media buzz around Zoom, plus backing from politicians and celebrities alike, Zoom isn’t a service we’d recommend – and it came bottom of the barrel compared with other apps suited to home use.
Even with a good connection, Zoom’s video quality isn’t quite as good as others, but it’s the speech and video quality with a poor connection which brings it down. As soon as the internet connection drops a little, speech can be practically inaudible and video is glitchy.
On the plus side, although it's been under fire for security issues, Zoom has resolved many problems in the version five update and we didn’t find anything alarming. Zoom is free with support for up to 100 people.
In the table below we reveal the apps that are best for using at work. Some of these work with a business account and have features for team collaboration. Scroll down for more information about each one, including analysis of our results.
|Video app name - in alphabetical order||Speech quality||Video quality||Speech with throttling||Video with throttling||Ease of use||Score|
|Team Viewer Blizz|
Although we didn't run mobile-based video-calling apps through our full test, we've still run the rule over some of the more popular options to help you choose.
WhatsApp allows you to call up to eight people. You can call just one of your contacts, or straight from one of your WhatsApp groups. WhatsApp uses your internet connection, so it will be free if you’re connected to wi-fi.
WhatsApp is also available on iPhones.
Facebook Messenger supports both voice and video calls. You can start a call straight from any existing conversation and it will link between all of your devices. It also allows group calls with up to eight people (who each have a Facebook account). Facebook’s photo filters work with video calling, too – if you want to have a bit of fun.
Facebook has also recently created Messenger Rooms, a feature which works on the Facebook and Messenger apps, and it allows up to 50 people on the call – including those who don’t have either service.
Facebook Messenger is also available on iPhones.
Google Duo’s app allows video calling with up to 32 people.
There are plenty of fun features, including doodle mode, which allows you to draw to everyone in the group, and fun augmented reality (AR) effects (if you fancy becoming a dinosaur for the evening). You can also take a photo of your call and share it immediately with everyone on the line – great for documenting a virtual birthday party.
Google Duo is also available on iPhones.
Apple devices are supplied with FaceTime. You can video call anyone quickly and easily from your contacts or from the FaceTime app. Bear in mind that it only works if the person you’re calling also has an Apple device, but you can add up to 32 people.
It’s a bit different from the other options, as you can play games with up to eight people on your call, from virtual charades to Pictionary.
HouseParty is also available on Android.
Instagram has recently launched more features for group video calling. You can call just one person, or up to six people at once. To get notified about the call, though, you’ll have to make sure notifications are on for video chats.
You can use all of Instagram’s filters in the group chat, as well as share photos you’ve liked recently with the group, so you can all view and chat about them together.
Instagram is also available on Android.
Although Zoom has been heavily criticised for security issues, it has improved with the update to Version 5.0. We ran each video calling app on test here through our security tests and we didn’t find any cause for concern, including with Zoom.
There are some things that video calling services could do better, though. Some meetings can’t be locked, or they have meeting names that could be guessed. Others allow trivial passwords, and their password policies could be more secure.
These can always be improved with updates, but you can do some things yourself in the meantime to make your meetings as secure as possible.
Some software, such as Slack and Discord, isn't too hot on making sure your passwords are secure. As an example, in our tests, Discord allowed 123456 to be used as a password, which is obviously a poor choice and easily guessable.
Instead, using three random words in sequence to create what’s called a passphrase, instead of a traditional ‘password’, is best.
This could be something that you’ll remember easily, but doesn’t necessarily need to make sense. Using something personal like your daughter’s name and birthday isn’t ideal; like ‘SarahBornJune’. Something like ‘DeskBoilerHippo’ would be fine.
With some software, such as Cisco and Jitsi, you’ll have a meeting name. If you’re creating your own name, try to make it as unique and difficult to guess as possible so you don’t have any unwanted guests, accidental or otherwise. Don't make it the same as your password, either.
If you’re given the option, you can apply extra settings, such as multi-factor authentication. These are apps which generate a one-time code that you use to confirm that it’s really you logging in – a bit like the codes you use with internet banking. You can find out how to do this in .
Some video calling options also allow you to lock your meetings, so no-one else can join. Once everyone is on the call, it's always a good idea to lock your meeting.