For years, webcams and forward-facing cellphone cameras have been little more than technology gimmicks for a lot of the population. That perception has changed drastically as the need and desire to connect with friends, family, and business associates have increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you happen to be looking for the right software solution to begin a virtual face-to-face chat or hold a meeting with dozens of people simultaneously, we’re going to give you a little guidance into a few of the top choices that are out there.
When trying to decide what kind of video communications software you want to adopt, it’s essential to identify your needs and goals. You might want to begin by determining if this is for business use only or just personal. Features that you might need for professional use might include things such as Desktop Sharing, Whiteboards, File Sharing, Chat, Scheduling, and Recording Capabilities, to name just a few. For personal use, you’ll want something simple to use and is something your contacts will be will to use to take a call. Either way, you’ll want to find something that is safe and secure with encrypted communication.
Zoom Video (Zoom Video Communications) Enterprise
Zoom adoption has exploded in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak. Unfortunately, recent security vulnerabilities have been discovered, such as one referred to as “Zoombombing.” This is where uninvited “guests” drop into a call and display disruptive material (i.e., pornographic imagery or racial slurs, for example.) Zoom has been quick to address these issues however. In most cases, Zoom is a great product when it’s used with Zooms best practices. The software is easy to use and works across multiple platforms.
Easy to use, but proceed with caution. Adhere to their best practices.
Teams by Microsoft
Teams has become an increasingly competitive player in the video conferencing space. One of its strong suits is that it’s tightly integrated into the Office 365 suite. Teams supports up to 300 maximum users and feature screen sharing, file sharing, encryption, and more. In its favor, the software is remarkably unified across platforms, whether you use the web browser version, Windows client, Mac OS client, iOS, or Android apps. If you’re looking to use it for personal use, there is also a free version that only requires the creation of free Office 365 account.
The same as one of its strengths, Office 365 is required. There’s not a lot to pick on in the eyes of this reviewer.
Meet by Google
Part of G Suite line of products, Google Meet, is an excellent product for those who are already enrolled in a G Suite subscription. One benefit is that anyone can join a meeting, even if the invitee doesn’t have a google account, you just need to approve by the organizer to join. To start a video meeting, you’ll need to have a G Suite account.
User capacity is limited to 25 participants, while Enterprise subscribers can host 100.
For those looking for something to use in your personal life to, say for instance, connect with grandma, you’ll want something simple to use, and easily available to your contacts.
Portal (w/Messenger) by Facebook
Facebook, who is a relative latecomer to the dedicated video conferencing hardware market, is leveraging there massively popular Messenger App to hit the ground running. Connecting with people over Messenger using a smartphone or a webcam equipped computer has never been more accessible. With more than 1.4 billion users of the Messenger App, there is a good chance that the people you want to connect with are also using the app. In addition to the wide availability of the Messenger App, Facebook now offers four hardware solutions to integrate into your home called Portal.
Facebook currently offers four hardware SKUs: Portal TV, Portal Mini, Portal, and Portal+.
Portal TV is a more traditional, if not massive, webcam that pairs with any TV you have in your home. It features an excellent Microphone Array to pick up your voice all around the room, a camera that is able to follow you around the room, a wide-angle lens to capture a group of people, and feature an Amazon Alexa. Portal TV is the only product from Facebook that does not feature an integrated speaker as it uses your TV’s sound system or speaker.
The other three products, Portal Mini, Portal, and Portal +, are all variations of a photo frame with a touch screen interface. They are designed to sit on a countertop, table, or shelf and will spend most of their time displaying photos from Facebook and Instagram. In addition to Messenger, all of the Portal devices work with WhatsApp as well. This is a very welcome addition that could have been locked down to Facebook users only. Group calls are restricted to 8 people (including yourself) in Messenger and 4 (including yourself) using WhatsApp.
Portal devices do not offer a large selection of apps. You won’t find Netflix or Disney+ on the platform, which seems like a waste of a screen. While Alexa is built-in, the abilities are restricted once again because of the limited number of apps like Prime Video. Still, it does integrate with your smartphone, and you can get the weather, for instance.
FaceTime by Apple
It’s hard to believe that Apple launched its proprietary videotelephony product, FaceTime, ten years ago this June. Facetime delivers a seamless way to video chat between other people who use Apple products that run iOS 7 or higher (iPhones and iPads) and Apple computers (Mac Pro, iMac, Macbook, etc.) running Max OS X Lion or newer. Featuring full integration with Contact and the Messages app, you’d be hard-pressed to find an easier way to video chat. Apple is known for its usability, simplicity, and clean design, making it a breeze to use. Group chat supports up to 32 participants which is more than adequate for most cases.
The downside is that FaceTime is not available on other hardware platforms.
There are so many other products that we didn’t go over that are also great solutions for consumer use such as the Amazon Echo line of products. We’ll add some additional links below for other products as they come to mind.
Be safe out there and please contact us if you have questions about choosing a solution that is right for you.