We’ve all spent a lot more time that we’d expected on video-calls over the past few years and as so many of us continue to work from home at least part of the time vice-conferencing apps such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become a workday staple.
And it’s not just for work that we use these apps. During the pandemic years, video calling family and friends became much more common than it was before, so apps like FaceTime really came into their own.
The number of video calling apps to choose from has grown and the selection available is vast in terms of what’s on offer. So, if your current software is beginning to frustrate or you just wonder what alternatives are out there, here’s a helpful guide to some of our favourite services available on the Mac, iPad and iPhone.
We also have advice about How to adjust your Mac and your workspace for better quality videoconferences which covers how to adjust camera settings and how to use your iPhone as the web camera.
We also have a round up of the best video calling apps to use on your iPhone and iPad.
Zoom is an app whose influence grew enormously during the pandemic, with many people relying on its solid, easy-to-use interface and the impressive range of features available on the free tier.
Once you’ve set up your account and downloaded the client app, the service allows users to host meetings with up to 100 participants and you can have as many sessions as you want each month. The only real limitation is that if you have a Basic account group meetings last for up to 40 minutes before being automatically ended by Zoom. If you don’t want the meeting to abruptly end you either need to switch to a Pro account (which costs $14.99/£11.99 a month). Alternatively, you can immediately start another meeting.
One of the most useful features is for participants being able to share their screens with everyone else on the call, so if you want to see the new product design or monthly performance chart, Zoom makes it easy to do so. Everything is protected by AES 256-bit encryption and SSL, so the company secrets should remain safe.
If you need additional numbers of participants, longer meeting times, call analysis, the ability to record calls, and other benefits then there are paid tiers that begin at £11.99/$14.99 p/m. Here’s how to use Zoom on Mac.
2. Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is a comprehensive service designed primarily for business users. The free tier is impressive and offers enough for most purposes. You can make HD video calls, share your screen, and make use of the built-in chat features, plan events using the tasks features, plus there’s 5GB of OneDrive storage for documents and other files. All calls and messages are encrypted, so no-one can listen in on the conversation.
Free calls can last 60 minutes at a time, with up to 100 participants. If you have a Microsoft 365 subscription ($6.99/£5.99 per month), then more Teams features are included in the package, such as upping the length of a call to 30 hours with a maximum of 300 people, plus 1TB of OneDrive storage.
Upgrading to the Microsoft Teams Business Basic tier (which costs $6/£4.50 per user per month), brings the ability to schedule and record meetings, plus you can host online events for up to 300 people. There’s also a Business Standard tier that adds desktop versions of Microsoft Office for all members, as well as the ability to host webinars, and costs $12.50/£9.40 per user per month. Read our Microsoft 365 buying advice.
3. Google Meet
Google has had a lot of video-calling apps over the years, but Google Meet is the one it’s focussed on at the moment. Up until recently it was only available with a paid subscription to Google’s G-Suite service, but now the software has a free tier that can be used by anyone.
On the Google Meet tier, yes I know that name is confusing, anyone with a Google account can instantly set up a meeting that can last up to 24 hours if it’s just with one other person or up to an hour is there are 3 or more participants. The limit is 100 people on a free call, which should be plenty for most occasions. Within the call you can share screens, use the Whiteboard feature to illustrate ideas, plus there is a built-in Live Captions capability that’s similar to the Live Subtitles feature in Skype which will use Google Translate to put up a text version of the conversation (only in English at the moment). Webex below also includes a translation service but this costs extra.
If you need more features, such as the ability to record meetings or use breakout rooms and polls, then you’ll need the Google Workspace Individual Tier that costs $7.99 p/m in the US and seems to be called Google Business Standard in the UK, with a cost of £8.28 p/m.
The service is available through pretty much any web browser or via apps on iOS and iPadOS.
WebEx is very much an enterprise offering, with enterprise level pricing, but there is also a free tier which will allow you to have up to 100 participants meet for up to 50 minutes.
The free version lacks the business-focused features, including up to 200 participants in 24 hour meetings (which is offered in the Meet plan $15 per user, per month. In the U.K. there is a Starter plan for £11.50 a month and a Business plan for £16.50 a month). In the Meet plan you also get 10GB cloud storage for recordings per user (this is one difference between the U.K. Starter and Business plans – the starter is 5GB vs the Business 10GB). Subscribers also get captioning and transcription and noise cancelling. File transfers are also included. There is also a real-time translation add-on, but that costs extra. You can download the Webex Meeting app on the App Store.
Webex offers screensharing, business users can also share a whiteboard for collaboration and file share, making it an appealing choice for small and large businesses. You can schedule meetings in advance or, with a single click, launch one immediately. Participants join the meeting by either clicking a URL you send them or visiting the WebEx site and entering a meeting number. We like that you can show more emotional reactions than other services that are limited to the ‘raise a hand’ emoji. You can even gesture to the camera to trigger an emoji, for example clapping to the camera will add the clapping emoji.
Another great feature is breakout rooms, but other services, such as Google Meet, Teams and Zoom, also offer this.
Once you’ve set up a meeting, participants can connect in four ways: via phone, WebEx’s own built-in VoIP tools, videoconferencing, and built-in text chat. There’s 128-bit SSL encryption, with even more security available to enterprise users. In fact Cisco allows enterprise users to run meetings on their own intranets.
Microsoft’s other video-conference app was one of the pioneers in the field. First released back in 2003, the software has grown into a trusted service and became so ubiquitous a while back it was often used as a verb, as in “I’ll Skype you later.” Today it’s a powerful app that has all the features you’d expect from a mature product.
Keeping up with the likes of Zoom, Skype also supports virtual backgrounds and can even have everyone on the call sitting in virtual classrooms, boardrooms or a ball pit if you want to liven up a boring meeting.
HD video is available and you can share your screen with other people on the call, record sessions, and there’s the innovative Live Subtitles feature that can produce readable versions of conversations that allow those who are hard of hearing to still participate.
While you can make Skype calls for free – and you can call up to 100 people in a group call – the cost depends on where in the world you are calling from and whether you can calling Skype to Skype. The Skype for Business plan has been replaced by Microsoft Teams (above).
6. Apple FaceTime
Of course, Apple does provide a free video-conferencing app of its own in macOS and iOS. FaceTime has grown into a far more capable service over the past few years and has plenty to offer if you want to keep up with friends and family.
While it remains Applecentric, friends on Windows or Android devices can now join in on the fun via links you send to them. They then access the call through either the Chrome or Edge browsers. Up to 32 participants can be on a Group Call and there is no time limit like on many of the other services listed above. (Here’s a tutorial on how to make a group FaceTime call.)
With macOS Monterey, FaceTime gained a decent amount of sharing options that allows you to listen to music or watch TV shows and movies together on a call. If you just want to show other participants a webpage or image that’s on your Mac, you can use the Share Screen features (we explain it in more detail in our how to share your screen on Mac guide).
SharePlay is a slightly different feature, in that it works with apps like Apple Music and Apple TV+ to allow multiple users to sync video and audio playback while enjoying the same content. It’s a limited selection of media providers though, with the likes of Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime Video currently not available with SharePlay.
Other updates include Spatial Audio, which makes it appear that the sounds from the call are coming from the area on the screen were the person is speaking, and Potrait mode blurs the background. These are limited to certain hardware requirements though, so if your Mac is getting on a bit, you will have to stick with the standard views and sounds.
While FaceTime can be used for team meetings and such, it still remains more focussed on informal calls with friends and families, at which it excels.
7. GoTo Meeting
If your requirements are primarily business, then GoTo Meeting is a comprehensive service that has plenty of additional option if you want to expand the scope of your communications. It’s completely cross-platform, so you’ll be able to use practically any device for calls.
The Professional tier costs $12 per month and comes with a list of features you would expect from this kind of product: HD video, up to 150 people on a call, no time limits on meetings, secure connections, screen sharing, messaging, breakout rooms and Hand Raising capabilities where people can indicate they would like to comment.
If you need more people on the call, transcriptions, recording capabilities as well as other features then you’ll want the Business tier that costs $16 per month. Go To also offers services for webinars and video training, so it could be the complete solution to your digital provision, be it meeting your colleagues or training them remotely.
There’s no free version, but there is a free trial for two weeks.