The best video chat apps are more valuable than ever, what with everything going on in the world. The pandemic has physically cut us off from our family and friends, but there’s plenty of software out there and bridge the gap to stay together virtually. It doesn’t matter if you prefer a desktop or mobile experience, there’s something for everyone. The best part, though? Most of it is free.
Here we’ve rounded up all the best video chat apps you can download right now. Whether you’re using a desktop, Android, an iPhone, or fancy something that keeps your chats going through your gaming marathons. You might have heard of some of it, but didn’t know all the different features they had on offer.
Whether you need to keep things professional, or just need to catch-up with some of your pals, these are your best options.
Read on for our highlights of the best video chat apps on a multitude of platforms. And if you’re opposed to spending money, fear not: every piece of software in this list at least has a free tier — and most of them are totally free, period.
What are the best video chat apps?
The best video chat app overall — and one that is especially popular now — is Zoom Meeting, which can be used on desktop and mobile alike.
Zoom comes in free and paid tiers. The free option supports calls of up to 100 participants, though sessions with three or more individuals on the line are limited to 40 minutes, and can even run within a desktop browser window if you don’t want to download the app to your machine.
Skype is a good alternative to Zoom. It’s a bit easier to use, but also works across various platforms and costs nothing at the outset. It even allows you to call landlines and cell numbers at reasonable rates, supports texting and can conduct real-time translation, too.
Google Duo is an app that comes preinstalled on the vast majority of Android phones these days, and has essentially become Google’s answer to Apple’s FaceTime on iPhones. It’s easy to use, just like FaceTime, and offers a quick shortcut to calling Google Home devices built in.
Facebook also has two solutions on offer: Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Both apps’ video calling features saw a bump from 8 to 50 participants this past spring.
Finally, we recommend Discord for gamers, which features robust apps across mobile and desktop. In fact, Discord is built for streaming games to small groups of people, and the company recently increased the cap on its Go Live free streaming service from 10 to 50 individuals.
Here’s a closer look at all of the best video chat apps.
The best video chat apps you can download today
One of the best video chat apps lots of people are turning to these days is Zoom, and for good reason. Zoom is popular among professional teams, though it’s also become more common for simple video chats because of its extensive feature set and support across all platforms — both as a local and web app on desktops, and as a downloadable app on smartphones.
Screen sharing, live annotations and encryption all come standard with Zoom, whether you use the free version of the app or decide to pay. If you’re simply video chatting with one other friend, the free app doesn’t lock anything away from you. That changes, however, when you decide to invite three or more people into your meeting, at which point you have a 40-minute time limit. A $15-per-month Pro tier lifts that restriction so you can have up to 100 people on the same call, while the Business tier raises that cap even higher for enterprise customers.
It has to be said that a number of Zoom security flaws have been uncovered since the app entered the spotlight during the early days of the pandemic. However, Zoom is addressing these, and we still recommend it as safe to use for the vast majority of individuals, so long as you password protect every meeting. April’s Zoom 5.0 update ensured the app now complies with the AES 256-bit GCM encryption standard, and enforces passwords by default for professional and educator license holders. More recently the company activated end-to-end encryption to keep your calls more secure, and all of that should go a long way toward curbing Zoom bombing.
Skype’s been a name on the list of best video chat apps for a very long time. Microsoft’s offering has an impressive 50-person limit, and it costs you nothing. Like Zoom, Skype also has a browser client, and is available on practically every modern computing device and smartphone.
It’s also well-suited to connecting to people who don’t have devices of their own, and perhaps are restricted to landlines or a basic cell phone. Because Skype supports international calling and texting, it’s a comprehensive solution for friends and family countries away.
If you have specific needs, like screen sharing on mobile, or live transcription and translation, Skype covers those bases, too. The paid version of the app for businesses has been recast as Microsoft Teams, but you won’t need to use it if all you’re using it for is to chat with friends.
For the longest time, Android lacked its own answer to FaceTime on iPhone and iPad — a built-in video chatting app that users could easily turn to right on their device, without having to search around for something on the Play Store (and asking their friends to download it, too).
Thankfully, Google finally addressed that problem with Duo — video chat software that is remarkably easy to use and actually accessible within the standard Phone app on many Android phones. Duo also supports a range of fun features and allows you to record and send video messages, so you can connect to friends and family, even when they’re not available at the same moment in time.
Duo is also available on iOS, so you’re iPhone-toting friends have no right to shame you for not owning an Apple handset. It even has the same 32-person limit as Facetime these days. A recent report claimed Google is planning to fold Duo into Meet, which was initially intended more for enterprise users — though it’s unclear when this might come to pass.
Gamers already know Discord as a great resource for connecting with their friends over text, but did you know Discord supports video chat, too? Additionally, because it allows for streaming in the app itself, it’s a great way to play some games with friends, by streaming one user’s screen content to the rest of the group.
In fact, the Tom’s Guide staff has done exactly that multiple times during the quarantine, with one user sharing Quiplash from their PC’s display to the rest of us playing along by phone. Thankfully, Discord has even gone so far as to raise its Go Live built-in streaming service from a maximum of 10 people to 50 people temporarily. If you upgrade to Nitro, which costs $10 per month, you can raise the streaming quality to 1080p/60 fps, up from a max of 720p/30 fps for the free tier.
It’s no surprise that FaceTime should appear on this list of the best video chat apps. Apple’s software wasn’t the first in video chatting, but it was the one that started it all for mobile users, and led the industry toward making video chat easier and more accessible.
Today, FaceTime is preinstalled on all Apple hardware and supports a number of really fun and useful features, from cute Animojis, Memojis and stickers to allowing up to 32 people on a single call. And because FaceTime also has a voice call component — FaceTime Audio — you can easily route calls over data or Wi-Fi whenever you like, where your conversations will sound infinitely better than they do over your cellular provider’s voice network.
The only downside to FaceTime is of course that it is exclusive to Apple hardware. But between all the people who own iPhones, iPads and Macs these days, it shouldn’t be difficult to find someone to FaceTime with.
The beauty of using Facebook Messenger for video chat is that you’re probably already signed up to use it. As long as you have a Facebook account and the Facebook Messenger app on your phone (or are logged into the Facebook Messenger web app on your computer), you can start video chatting with your Facebook friends right now. Even if you had a Facebook account at one time and have since deactivated it, you can still use Messenger.
Just tap the little video camera icon in the upper-right corner of the screen, and you can start a call with an individual or chat group. And just like Skype, up to 50 people can be present on a Facebook Messenger video call at the same time — a good sight greater than the maximum 32 video chatters supported by Apple’s FaceTime and Google Duo supports. Plus, even while you video chat, you can still use Facebook Messenger’s myriad other functions, like sending chat messages, stickers and so on.
WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging alternatives on smartphones today, both because it’s a snap to join with only a phone number and because many of your friends and family are probably already using it (or at least have an account).
Up until recently, WhatsApp’s video calling feature wasn’t the most robust out there. But that changed once the max participant limit was raised to 50, thanks to an integration with Facebook Messenger’s new Rooms feature. The one downside to WhatsApp’s video suite is that even though WhatsApp offers desktop and web apps, video chat is limited to mobile app users.
At least WhatsApp video calls are end-to-end encrypted, just like chat messages. In other words, you’ll never have to worry about any of your conversations being intercepted by nefarious interlopers.
How to choose the best video chat app for you
Because all of the best video chat apps are free, you shouldn’t fear trying each one out if you’d like. There’s absolutely no risk involved. But if you want to know where to start, the best advice is to take stock of what you need this app for. If you’re just looking to chat on your phone alone, Duo, FaceTime and Facebook Messenger will suffice.
However, if you and your friends use a number of devices to connect — phones, tablets, computers and so on — or your need is more professional or collaborative, we recommend leaning toward Zoom, Skype or Discord. These apps are available on every platform, and even though some of them offer paid tiers, you likely won’t need to use them if your head count is small enough, or the length of time you plan to chat is relatively short. The free versions are feature-rich to begin with.
Ultimately, you’ll probably end up on whatever video chat app your friends and family already prefer using — that’s the way these things tend to go. But if you’re looking for a replacement, one of the options in this list will hopefully suffice.