It is clear that video conferencing apps and services have been very successful since the beginning of containment. According to figures from the analysis firm Priori Data, retrieved by Statista, the top three most downloaded apps on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store between March 16 and 22 are occupied by Discord, WhatsApp, and Zoom.
I’ve been on lockdown for almost a month now. My 20m² room has become my office, so I’ve been holding editorial conferences via Google Hangouts and Skype chats on Friday nights to celebrate the weekend over a well-deserved beer.
So I propose here a non-exhaustive and (not totally) arbitrary list of the best tools and apps to work, discuss, and socialize through your screen.
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Google Hangouts, Skype and Jitsi Meet for telecommuting
Google Hangouts for easy access
This is the main tool that the AndroidPIT editorial team uses for editorial conferences and other professional meetings. A paid version of the service called Google Hangouts Meet also exists for companies but the free version is more than enough.
The big advantage of Hangouts is its simplicity. On the desktop, there is no software to install. All you need is a Google account to create a chat room. You can then generate a shareable link before sending it to the recipients of your choice. The recipients then simply click on the link to access the chat room. On a smartphone, however, you’ll have to go through the dedicated Google Hangouts application via the Play Store.
A living room can accommodate up to 25 people and display 10 at the same time on the screen. Unlike the free version of Zoom, Hangouts does not impose a time limit on your conversations. If you already use Google services like Gmail or Google Calendar, integrating appointments via Hangouts and sending them to your contacts is really intuitive.
Personally, I’ve linked my Google Calendar to my Slack account (a collaborative work tool), so I receive a notification from Google Calendar 10 minutes before the meeting, with a redirection link to the Hangouts chat room. It’s really handy.
Skype, for old-fashioned conferencing calls
No, you didn’t come back in 2007. Skype still exists and remains one of the benchmarks for video conferencing. Again, it’s free, easy to use and can bring up to 50 people together on video. A significant number of users use Skype and many others at least know its name. On a smartphone, it is necessary to install the Skype application, but it is not essential on a computer, Skype works via your web browser. There is also a Chrome extension.
Skype is so well known that I don’t think I need to spend too much time on it. Just remember that the tool allows you to chat as well as make group audio or video calls. The tool, which can also be used to send files, includes a screen-sharing module that allows your callers to see what your PC screen is displaying in real-time.
It’s like Hangouts but outside of Google’s ecosystem, so you’ll need a Microsoft account (Skype was bought by the American giant in 2011) to use it.
Jitsi Meet, for sadists 2.0
Jitsi Meet is free video-conferencing software. The main selling point (the tool is free, rest assured) is that it does not belong to ‘GAFAM’ (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft). No need for an account, encryption by default, Jitsi Meet wants to be much more protective of your personal data. The service works on smartphone and tablet thanks to an application, or on a computer in a simple web browser.
Much less widespread and known than other services, it may take a bit of a struggle to get it adopted by your loved ones. But the service is very complete and rich in features. For example, you can choose to toggle the display of participants within a mosaic by clicking on the button with four squares, share your screen, access a chat, or even ‘Raise your hand’ to indicate that you wish to speak without interrupting your interlocutors.
You’ll also be able to blur the background, share a YouTube video that will be integrated directly into the video conversation, stream live to YouTube, or record your entire video meeting. And at least you’ll escape the sprawling clutches of web giants hungry for your personal data. All you need to give globalization a professional foothold!
You can download Jitsi Meet for free from the Google Play Store.
You can download Jitsi Meet for free on the App Store.
Google Duo, Whatsapp, and Messenger for an evening with friends
I know, I know, there is much more hype around popular applications used by zoomers nowadays, like Houseparty for example (that I would advise against and which I’m talking about below…). But for my weekend aperitif through a screen with some of my friends, I stay on classics like WhatsApp or Google Duo.
Google Duo, the native solution on an Android smartphone.
Along with Gmail, Google Maps, and Chrome, Google Duo is one of the applications that Android manufacturers must install if they want to take advantage of the Google Play Store on their devices. Unless you have a recent Huawei phone (post-Mate 30 Pro), every Android smartphone has Google Duo pre-installed, which is the overwhelming majority of devices in the world.
To make a voice call, just enter the phone number or choose from your contacts the person(s) of your choice. Recently, Google Duo can accommodate up to 12 people in the same chat room at the same time.
It’s really the easiest way to make video calls on a smartphone. You don’t have any applications to install. But Duo is logically not pre-installed on iOS. However, the application is available for free on the Apple App Store.
WhatsApp and Messenger, why make life difficult for yourself?
Those are probably the two apps on that list that I really don’t need to introduce you to. Both belong to Facebook. WhatsApp is one of the most used secure messaging applications in France. It’s too limited for professional use but it’s more than enough for small group calls. To register and use it, a simple phone number is enough. Its video conferencing feature allows up to four people to communicate and is only available on smartphones and tablets, not computers.
Messenger is Facebook’s other very popular messenger. Less secure (conversations are not automatically encrypted). But it doesn’t impose the same limitations for video calls, which can involve up to eight people and works on smartphones, tablets, and computers.
Not least of all, unlike WhatsApp, your friends and family must have an active Facebook account to connect to the service. It is no longer possible, since the end of 2019, to sign up to Messenger only with a phone number. If you’ve given up on Facebook, I’m not sure if it’s worth recreating or reactivating your account.
Houseparty and Zoom, the video chat apps to avoid
Houseparty is a video chat application that we hear a lot about in these times of containment. You’ve probably seen it mentioned in the lists of ‘best video conferencing apps’ that have been swarming online since the government’s injunctions to stay home.
The operation of the app is very simple. It allows you to chat via video chat, in its virtual living rooms that can accommodate up to eight people. The special feature of Houseparty is that friends of friends can come and join in the video chats. You can, of course, make your lounge private, to exclude uninvited guests. Houseparty also offers a fairly limited range of built-in mini-games to be launched via the service (Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, etc).
But the best part about the collection of your private data is that Houseparty “may use the content of all conversations held via the service, including any ideas, inventions, concepts, techniques or know-how for any purpose such as the development, design and/or marketing of products or services”.
In concrete terms, forget about encrypting conversations, say hello to the archiving (video and audio) of all your conversations for commercial purposes. Avoid this application like the plague!
Zoom, a data sieve
Zoom is the service that’s the talk of the town right now, for better or worse. What makes people talk so much is the ability to have as many as 100 simultaneous participants in a single video call. ‘Only’ 49 of them can be displayed on the screen at the same time.
These are numbers that make you dizzy and force you to squint to see your callers trapped in one of the 49 tiny cells on the screen. Of course, chances are you won’t need that much space, but who knows? Either way, it’s good to have some room.
You can also have 100 contacts with Google Hangouts, but only with the paid version at $6 per month. With Zoom, it’s free. Zoom also does a lot of buzzing with the ability to change the background of its own chat window. This way, each participant can add a different background. This way you can pretend to be in your room or office while you are in the bathroom. Since it’s convenient, we say!
But the big problem with Zoom is the time restriction on the free version. Indeed, Zoom only allows you to make a video call for 24 or 40 consecutive minutes, depending on the number of participants. And switching to the paid model (from $15 a month) is not really worth it in my opinion.
From what I understood by reading the explanations of the society, a paying member can invite free members. But free members will still see their session expire after 24 or 40 minutes. But if I advise you against Zoom, it is mainly because of its recent setbacks related to the protection of personal data.
A few days ago, the application was pinned down after Motherboard (via Vice) discovered that its iOS version was sending statistical data to Facebook even though the user did not have an account on the social network. Following the bad publicity, Zoom explained to Motherboard that it takes the security of its users’ data very seriously.
As a sign of good faith, the company said that it has implemented the Login with Facebook module to provide users with an easy way to connect to Zoom, and that they were only recently made aware that this API was collecting data. The publisher, therefore, looked into an alternative solution to continue to offer the connection via Facebook. The use of the Facebook SDK was finally abandoned, and the function was reviewed and corrected so that the user now goes through the iPhone web browser.
Everything seems to be back to normal and the company has since apologized. But you are advised to remain wary. In any case, why tempt the devil when there is no shortage of free alternatives (as listed above)?
What do you think of the tools listed in this article? Feel free to share your experiences in comments.