Five Zoom alternatives to combat social isolation with video chat

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Pubs closed, streets empty, friendships on lockdown: With half the planet staying indoors, conversations have gone online. While many have turned to video chats on Zoom, these five services are just as easy and offer better privacy and security.

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The coronavirus and resulting social isolation has made it harder to meet friends and family. So why not engage in a video chat and avoid any risk of infection? We look at some of the apps that let you do this.

If your video chat is only to take place between two people or two devices, pretty much any messenger app will suffice. However, there are plenty of options if you want to connect with more people.

If you use a smartphone or tablet, you have one of the prerequisites already, namely a camera. Most laptops also have an integrated one. If you’re using a desktop PC, you’ll need a webcam, and possibly also a microphone and loudspeaker.

The five services listed below can connect entire families and groups of friends and some also have useful additional features.

— Hangouts: Google’s communication platform can handle text messages, voice calls and video conferences – in the free edition for up to 10 participants.

It runs on iOS and Android smartphones and on a computer inside a browser. Every participant needs to have a Google account. You can also link your phone number to it and so become findable that way.

Hangouts can be found in the Google and Apple app stores and also in the app selection in your Google account. It works well for users with different device platforms.

— Facetime: If everyone on your call is an Apple user, Facetime offers the easiest solution. Apple’s voice and video calls app is pre-installed on all Apple devices and only works with them.

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Users of iPhones, iPads and Macs can easily initiate video calls with their contacts. Facetime calls are free but do consume data volume on your mobile network.

To use Facetime, users need to have at least an iPhone 6s, an iPad Air 2 or an iPad mini 4 running iOS 12.1.4. If you have an older device that supports iOS 12.1.4, you can still dial in but only as an audio guest.

— Skype: A classic among video telephony services, it allows up to 50 people to be connected to a group call. The prerequisite is that you have the Skype app on an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet or the desktop version on PCs and Macs.

External users without Skype can also be invited to a video chat via a link and can then get access using Skype for Web.

Skype’s a practical option for communication across different devices. To use it on a smartphone or PC you need a Skype or Microsoft account.

— WhatsAppUp to four participants can connect to each other using this popular messaging app. To do so, simply start a call with the first person and add up to two more. Or you can select all three contacts and start a call.

The app works with Android and iOS smartphones. If you use Android, you need at least version 4.1 of the operating system. The app is widespread but a downside is that the number of participants is limited.

— Jitsi : Free open-source video conferencing software for the web and smartphones, Jitsi enables encrypted communication between participants. It’s available for iOS and Android smartphones or on PCs using a browser. It can also be integrated into the Slack collaboration software.

It works for text messaging, screen sharing and video conferencing. You don’t need to have a user account and can invite chat participants via a link. – dpa

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