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5 Ways to Video Chat

The pros and cons of Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Meet, Microsoft’s Skype and Zoom

spinner image a woman sitting at a desk at home video chatting with her parents on a desktop computer

Video chatting services are a meaningful and personal way to talk with kids, grandkids, friends and colleagues. With group calls, many people can virtually attend book clubs, religious services, yoga classes and even weddings and funerals.

Most services are free and work with several devices you already own. And you don’t need a degree in computer science to figure out how to participate.

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The question isn’t whether you should video chat but on which platform. Unlike a voice-only call, everyone you want to see and hear needs to be using the same service.

If you have strong Wi-Fi and good lighting, there has never been a better time to reach out, virtually, to connect with loved ones.

How to Set Up a Group FaceTime Call

FaceTime works best on Apple products

Apple FaceTime is simple to set up and use, but works best on a supported Apple device, such as an iPhone, iPad or Mac. FaceTime calls are often between these devices — an iPhone can FaceTime with a Mac, a Mac can FaceTime with an iPad, and so on.

Up to 32 people can engage in a call at the same time.

In 2021, Apple allowed callers on Windows machines and Android phones to be a part of its calls. But the experience isn’t as smooth or seamless as on an Apple device. More on this in a moment.

You can make a FaceTime call in a couple of ways, but the first and easiest step is to enable FaceTime on your Apple gear.

On an iOS device — iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch (if you still have one of those) — you can either open the FaceTime app, the little green square with a white video camera icon in the middle, or go to Settings | FaceTime. Flick the tab to enable FaceTime on your device, turning it from white to green.

Mac users can click to open the FaceTime app and enable it. If your Apple ID isn’t registered, you’ll need to sign in once.

Windows and Android users join a FaceTime call on the web:

1. Tap or click the link in, say, your email or text message where you’ve received a link to a FaceTime call.

2. Enter your name on the website. Then select Continue. You might need to allow FaceTime to use your microphone and camera.

3. Select Join. Then wait for the call’s host to let you in.

4. Select Leave to leave the call.

FaceTime also works with iMessage, Apple’s text messaging system, so you can easily switch between texts and video chat. Just select the video camera icon in the upper right corner of the iMessage screen to go to FaceTime video chat. To go to iMessage when you’re in FaceTime, select the speech bubble icon in the upper left corner of the FaceTime screen.

How to Video Chat on Facebook

Facebook Messenger remains a popular pick

If you’re a user of the world’s largest social media platform, you’ve likely sent plenty of private messages over Facebook Messenger through the years. Built into Facebook and as an app, Facebook Messenger is also an ideal way to make free phone calls and engage in video chats with friends.

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Regular Messenger allows up to eight people on one video call. However, a feature called Facebook Messenger Rooms is built into Messenger and allows up to 50 people to chat over Facebook Messenger. Messenger Rooms is always free to use and has no time limits.

Messenger works on many kinds of devices: Android and iOS phone and tablet apps, Mac and PC apps, web browsers and Facebook’s Portal family of smart displays. More than 183 million people in the United States used Messenger in March 2023, according to NapoleonCat social media marketers. And it was the most popular messaging app among 18- to 64-year-olds in 2022, according to a Statista Global Consumer Survey. 

Facebook also owns WhatsApp, the fourth most popular messaging app in the Statista survey. WhatsApp allows groups of friends, up to eight people, to video chat.

Google Meet remains free for all users

If you’ve been a Google user for many years, you probably remember Google Hangouts and Google Duo. Both are gone now, but the new and improved Google Meet takes their place for video calls.

Originally built to host secure business meetings but now free to everyone, Google Meet is a reliable and secure platform that allows up to 100 people to connect over video. Group video chats are limited to 60 minutes for free, but you may not be kicked off for going over. If you do, just ask everyone to rejoin.

valid Gmail account is required to sign in. If you use the web version, only the Google Chrome browser, said to be less vulnerable to cybersecurity threats, is supported.

To get going, go to or go through your Android or iOS mobile app. Sign in with your Gmail address.

How to Video Call on Skype

Skype also works on Xbox systems

Microsoft’s Skype is one of the oldest and most popular ways for others to chat through audio, text messaging or video.

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It began in 2003 in Europe as desktop software, migrating later to smartphones. Microsoft bought it in 2011. Up to 50 people can participate in a video call.

Skype is available on several kinds of devices and operating systems — computers, mobile phones, tablets, web browsers and Xbox video game consoles. It’s free when calling another Skype user, but calling a landline or mobile number will cost a little per call.

Features include the ability to blur your background, record calls, share files and schedule a call for a future date. All you have to do to schedule a call is give it a title, pick a date and time and set a reminder for yourself and others.

In early 2023, Microsoft started to roll out AI-powered Bing into Skype’s chat. Leveraging artificial intelligence from the ChatGPT platform, which Microsoft invested in heavily, it allows users to type questions, search the web for information or request content to be created from the chatbot, all through a simple chat interface.

If you have Microsoft Teams as part of the Office 365 suite of apps, you can invite others without Teams into a meeting. When they click on your email invitation, they’ll be asked to Join on the web instead using Google Chrome or Microsoft Bing browsers if they’re on a computer. Or they’ll need to download the Teams mobile app from the Apple or Google Play app stores on their smartphones to Join as a guest.

Zoom adapts to many devices

One of the breakout tech stars during the coronavirus crisis, Zoom has evolved from a business-centric tool to an incredibly popular consumer video chatting platform.

And for good reason. It’s easy to use, works with virtually all devices and allows for up to 100 video participants on one call. More than other video solutions, Zoom also is among the easiest for scheduling a conference call in advance and easily inviting people over email or text message.

You can record the video call to watch later or share your screen if you want to allow other participants to see what’s on your device, such as a video or photo. Plus, you can have fun with virtual backgrounds if you want to make it look like you’re on, say, a beach with waving palm trees instead of in a messy home office.

You don’t need to spend the $14.99 a month, $149.90 a year, to use the Zoom Pro version when the free one is probably good enough. But be aware of one main limitation: Video calls that involve more than two people are limited to 40 minutes.

Senior Planet has classes, videos

Senior Planet from AARP, which specializes in teaching technology to older adults, has live online classes that include Getting Started on Zoom and Hosting on Zoom.

Its tech tips tutorial library includes more than a half dozen on-demand videos on the finer points of Zoom.

This story, originally published June 29, 2020, was updated to include changes in features among the apps.

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