If you need a little face time with friends and family that live far away, firing up a video chat has never been easier. These days you don’t even need to install an app or download a heavy client—many services let you open a browser and within seconds see your friend’s face, no matter where they are in the world. This week we’re going to look at five services that give you the best, fastest, and most hassle-free video chatting experience.
Earlier this week we asked you which web-based video chat services—that is, services that operate in a browser and don’t force you to download a client to operate—were the best. We tallied up your nominations, and here are your top five:
Google Hangouts almost doesn’t need a description. When it was introduced back in 2011, we praised it as one of the most seamless, easy to use video chat services we’d ever seen. That’s still true: If you have a Google account, you can use Hangouts, and while it was initially only a part of Google+ (and remains an integratl part of it), Hangouts is available as a stand-alone Android app and iOS app and accessible from inside Gmail. You’ll need a browser plugin for Hangouts to work, but that’s it—no desktop installation, no client you have to run at startup, and no additional accounts. Inviting other people to hang out is as easy as emailing them, and if they have Google accounts as well, it’s even easier. Add onto that the fact that Google Hangouts lets you share your desktop, has built-in drawing, collaboration, and other tools and apps, supports screen sharing, and wants to be a unified video, photo, and chat interface, and it’s your favorite online meeting service, and you have a pretty powerhouse tool. Impressive for being just over two years old.
Facebook Video Chat launched in 2011 as a simple and easy way to stay in touch with the friends you already have on a social network you already use. It too requires a tiny browser plugin to work, and while it doesn’t offer the battery of tools that some of the other services roll in, it does offer a massive built-in friends list that you don’t have to re-add or invite to a service in order to video chat with you. Since it’s powered on the back end by Skype, Facebook didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Depending on who you ask, that’s a good or a bad thing, but some of you clearly thought Facebook Video Chat offered smooth video, crisp audio, and of course, access to all of your Facebook friends. Plus, being powered by Skype means that Skype desktop users can video chat with Facebook users, share their screens with them, and enable full HD calling if you have an HD webcam attached to your computer.
Strictly, AnyMeeting is more of a videoconferencing service than it is a video chat service, but it fills the role nicely enough that some of you nominated it. It’s lightweight, and only requires a browser plugin to work. It’s free (although it’s ad-supported), and you’ll get nagging here and there to upgrade to the $ 18/mo “Pro 25” account or the $ 78/mo “Pro 200” account, which both remove the ads, bump up the number of people you can have in a videoconference simultaneously to 25 and 200 (respectively), and the option to record your meetings and web conferences for future playback. While Google Hangouts can go “On Air” on YouTube, you’re still limited to 10 active participants and 100 people in a group Hangout (if you’re broadcasting, more people can watch). With AnyMeeting, even free accounts can bring 200 people to the party (you just can’t record your meeting). Screen sharing, presentation uploading, YouTube video sharing, and a custom URL for your account and all of your meetings are just some of the features the service offers. You can check out their plans here, and if you ever need to host a webinar or large online conference, AnyMeeting can give you a way to do so affordably.
If the other services are too much for you, and all you really want is a hassle-free way to video chat with a loved one—perhaps a technologically challenged loved one—Meetings.io may be perfect for you. We’ve highlighted them before, and praised them for offering no-signup required, no plugin or install required, easy to access, one-click video chats, and the service has only gotten better since then. Sure, you can log in and create an account if you want to, but its real beauty is that you don’t have to get people all using the same service or signed in to Google or Facebook for it to work. Click a button, start a meeting, send everyone the link via email or SMS, and when they click it they’re dropped right into it. Chat organizers can approve or kick people as they see fit, share video, audio, and notes with other people in the chat, and more. All you need is Flash for the service to work, and if you already have that, you’re set. It’s not the most feature-rich or robust of the services in the roundup, but it’s definitely one of the simplest.
TinyChat is part free videochat service and part social network. There’s a massive, thriving community of people all over the world using TinyChat’s free chat rooms and video broadcasting services. Starting a chat couldn’t be easier—just click the button at the top of the page for an instant chat room, and you’re off and away. TinyChat, like many of the others, doesn’t require you download and install anything—it uses flash to access your camera and microphone. When you do start a chat, you’re prompted to share it on Facebook or your other social networks. If you opt to sign up for a TinyChat account, you can add friends, connect with other people, connect your social networks, and more. Upgrade to “Pro” for $ 10/mo or $ 85/yr to strip out the ads, get camera filters and effects, get higher quality video, and get your broadcasts (if they’re public) bumped up in the global directory. TinyChat is a tough sell—it can be a powerful tool and it’s a huge network, but it does a lot of nagging for you to share and annoy your friends on Facebook, and regardless of their site policies, a lot of the content over there can be questionable too. Your mileage may vary.
Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all out vote to determine the community favorite:
This week’s honorable mention goes out to Gruveo, a newcomer to the anonymous video chat scene—in fact, it just launched a few weeks ago. Gruveo promises encrypted, totally anonymous video chats without the need for sign-ups, plugin installs, or any personal details. You and your friend agree on a number that will identify your chat room, visit the site, type in the number, and you’re instantly connected. It has its limitations—there’s no screen sharing, document sharing, or other included features, and you can only chat with one person at a time, but its angle is anonymity and privacy, not a checklist of features. It’s fast, easy, and free.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it’s not because we hate it—it’s because it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest, but if you have a favorite, we want to hear about it. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at [email protected]!
Photo by Alan Levine.