When you can’t get together in person, group video apps let us see and hear our friends, family, or co-workers at once. There are group video apps designed for business, casual, gaming, and collaboration. Here’s a guide to the best group video-calling apps.
Best for iPhone or iPad: FaceTime
For many people, FaceTime kickstarted the age of modern video chat. Most folks had little or no experience with video chat until Apple added FaceTime to iOS in 2010, and it quickly became a popular alternative to ordinary audio calls. FaceTime makes it easy to set up group calls with up to 32 people, and you can add people to a call that’s already in progress.
As popular as it is, FaceTime is surprisingly limited. It has few sharing and collaboration tools, which include screen sharing, watching movies, and listening to music together using SharePlay, but won’t let you work together on a document or presentation. You also can’t record the call (though to be fair, many video chat apps don’t allow recording). Finally, FaceTime is Apple device-only, so while those running iOS 15 or later can invite Android-using friends to calls in progress, Windows users can’t get in on these conversations at all.
For Facebook Fanatics: Facebook Messenger
Odds are you have Facebook, so Facebook Messenger is a natural way to chat with fellow users. Not only does it allow one-on-one chats, but you can create a Room for chats as large as 50 participants at once. You can create an ad-hoc room at any time or schedule it for later, and you can invite specific people or let anyone with a link join in.
Messenger is cross-platform with apps for Android and iOS, as well as Windows and Macs. There’s even a standalone video call device called Facebook Portal.
The Golden Standard: Zoom
In 2020, Zoom’s popularity exploded, in large part because of COVID-19 pandemic and because it’s a free way to have high-quality video chats with up to 100 people at once. The service is cross-platform, working on the PC and Mac, web browsers, iPhone and Android. The only significant downside is that video calls are limited to 40 minutes, which might not be long enough for business meetings, and needing to reconnect to a new session can be awkward. Of course, there are paid tiers for users who need unlimited calling.
Zoom includes great sharing and collaboration tools, and you can even record meetings and share them with others. And meetings can be started ad-hoc or scheduled in advance.
Most Popular Texting Alternative: WhatsApp
A surprising fact: WhatsApp is the single most popular messaging app in use today. That’s likely true because it was an early cross-platform communication app that let people use Wi-Fi instead of texting when traveling internationally. Today, the app lets you text, make voice calls, and even video and chances are you and most of your friends and colleagues already have it installed. And finding people on the service is easy because you use your phone number rather than a username to join.
The app can handle group video calls with up to 50 participants by leveraging Facebook Messenger’s Rooms feature (WhatsApp is now owned by Facebook). Unfortunately, that means you can only video chat with users on the mobile app (either iOS or Android), rather than browser or desktop users.
Old and Reliable: Skype
Skype has been around for a very long time; older computer users might remember when Microsoft bought the service for a staggering $8.5 billion. It has continued to evolve through the years, though, and today it exists on every platform including smartphones, Web, desktop, and even the Xbox. Not only can you use it to make video calls with up to 50 participants for free, but you can also use it for voice-only calls to other devices and even landlines. It’s a pretty comprehensive communication solution.
It’s equipped for business calls as well as personal video chats; you can use it to share your screen, share files, and even display live subtitles to caption what is being spoken.
Play Games With Friends: Bunch
Here’s a fun video chat app that’s focused almost entirely on party games to play with your friends and family (there’s little doubt why it became so popular over the course of 2020). Bunch wants to connect you to your friends, so it’s a little hyper-aggressive during the initial setup about getting access to your various contact lists from your phone and social media services.
But once you’re past that, you can set up rooms with up to eight people and choose from among a slew of games to play together. Bunch has, at current count, seven games to choose from including a trivia game, a Flappy Bird clone, billiard, and more.
For Social Media Socialites: Instagram
Let’s be honest: There are people who spend a lot of time on Instagram. Whether that’s for work, investigating brands for social outreach, or play, checking out @dogsworkingfromhome, being able to video chat from within Instagram is a powerful feature. Chats can be full-screen or take up just a small window within the app, allowing you to continue to browse Instagram while chatting.
Unfortunately, Instagram tops out at a total of six people, but that’s probably plenty for most situations nonetheless. There’s no desktop or web chat, so it’s limited just to mobile apps though.
Make Your Own Chatrooms: Discord
Discord is something of a contradiction. It’s an excellent team communication tool and commonly used by programmers, special interest groups, and other sorts of clubs, but its roots are in computer gaming and its main demographic remains gamers. The server has a gamer aesthetic and appeals to more technical users. But that aside, it’s a great way for groups to stay connected with text, voice, and video chats. Usually limited to 10 people in a video chat at once, Discord has raised the limit to 25 people due to events in 2020, but that limit might eventually go back down.
Discord remains a great tool, like Slack, to keep running in the sidelines while you game, code, or otherwise collaborate on a project. There’s essentially no platform that’s not supported, from PC and Mac to Linux, iOS, and Android.
Leave Voice Memos: Marco Polo
Think of Marco Polo as sort of like a video chat walkie-talkie, or a video version of email. You choose a person (or a group) and start talking. Your video is left as a clip for the recipients to watch when they check in, at which time they can reply. It’s a way to have a conversation without everyone being available at the same time.
The app supports truly enormous group videos with up to 200 people at a time, complete with voice and video filter effects, all for free. There is a Marco Polo Plus subscription; for $5 per month you get a few extra features like HD video support and video playback speed controls, but most people can probably be perfectly happy with the free version of the service.
Best Cross-Platform Messaging App: Viber
Viber is a superb messaging app that does it all. You can use it for text, voice, and video calls, and it’s a cross-platform service that works with Android, iPhone, Windows, Mac, and even Linux. Not only is it useful for keeping friends and family connected, but the app includes its own online community of message boards you can join in on.
Of course, the app supports group video calling. It can handle up to 20 people at once, and makes great use of the screen by letting the current speaker take over the entire display, so you’re truly focused on whoever is talking. One problem you’ll probably have with Viber is, given the popularity of most of the other apps in this list, convincing enough of your friends and family to try it out.