Over the last week or so, I’ve had quite a few messages from readers asking for help with video calling, so they can keep in touch with their friends and family during the lockdown. I don’t have room in an email like this to go into all the ins and outs – but I’ll do my best to give you a whistle-stop tour of the most popular options.
This is the video calling service that’s built in to all Windows 10 PCs and laptops. It’s got easier to use in recent years – all you need to call someone is their Microsoft email address. Here’s (briefly) how it works.
If you sign in to your PC or laptop with a Microsoft account (most people do) then you can use that same account for Skype.
- To open the app, either click on the start button and find “Skype” in your all apps list, or search for it using the search box on your taskbar.
- The first time you open it, it’ll probably ask you to sign in with your Microsoft account and password, check that your microphone and camera are working and that sort of thing.
- Once you’re all set up, you can call someone – if you know their Microsoft email address, that’s all you need.
- If they don’t answer, you get the option to leave them a little message instead.
With Skype, you’re not only stuck with calling people from one PC to another. You can get versions of the app for tablets and smartphones, too.
Skype is designed to work with up to 10 people on the video call at once (or 25 if you’re okay with the rest of them being sound-only). You can either set up a “group” in advance, or just call one person, then use a little “+” sign on your screen to add more people to the call.
FaceTime and Google Duo
These are very similar to Skype. FaceTime is the Apple equivalent, so it works on iPads and iPhones. Duo is the Google version, so you get it on most Android phones and tablets. To call someone, you need to know their Apple or Google email address, or their mobile phone number.
With FaceTime, you can only call another iPad or iPhone – but if your family all have Apple devices, it works pretty well. Again, you can have more than one person in the video call at once, but it’s a fairly recent feature. It only works on newer iPhones and iPads running at least iOS 12. Before that, you can call more than one person at once, but it’s voice-only.
Duo works with up to 8 people on the call at once, and it comes ready-installed on most Android phones. If yours doesn’t have it and you want to give it a try, you can download it for free from the Play Store. There’s also an iPhone/iPad version of the app, so you’re not stuck with only being able to call Android devices.
Personally, I use Facebook Messenger for video calling from my phone or iPad. If you’ve got a Facebook account, you can use it to call any of your Facebook friends. Here’s how it works:
- If you don’t already have the Messenger app on your phone or tablet, you can download it for free from your app store.
- Open the app and choose someone to call from your contacts list. You can only call people who you’re connected to on Messenger – that’s either people who are already your Facebook friends, or you can send someone a separate Message Request if you like to ask them to connect with you.
- Once you’ve got someone selected, you can either type them a little message, or if you want to call them, tap the video camera icon at the top of the screen.
Again, you can add more people to the call if you like. While you’re talking, tap the screen and some options should come up – one of them is an “Add people” option. You can also start a group call by making a “group” of contacts and calling them all at once.
There are other options around that are designed to let you call more people at once. They’re for businesses really, but you can use them at home if you like. The most popular options are Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
As well as video calling, you get a fancy messaging system and the option to share files with people too – they’re great for people who are working from home, or for schools trying to run “virtual classrooms” for the children.
If all you want to do is call a few friends and family, though, the simpler systems work absolutely fine.
Lots of options, but my advice would be to find out which system most of your family and friends are already using, and have a go with that one. You might find that you need to have a couple of different systems set up, but they’re all very similar – so once you’re used to using one, you shouldn’t find them too difficult to switch between.