The best free apps for video calling

Technology
Illustration by Samar Haddad / Photo by Becca Farsace

The COVID-19 pandemic has had long-lasting effects on the way we work. Despite the semi-official “opening up” of many public and commercial venues, many of us are still relying on video calls to keep in touch with work colleagues, family, and friends. Zoom continues to top the list of videoconferencing apps, but there are a bunch of other free applications out there that will allow you to meet others online.

What follows is a list of some of the best videoconferencing apps, along with a couple of popular text chat apps and social networks that include video calling features. We’ve also tried to concentrate on applications that allow at least 10 or more participants on their free version.

A good idea is to try one or two out for yourself to see how well they fit in with your style and that of your friends. This list is a good place to start.

Zoom

The most popular video meeting app

Zoom is one of the most widely used video meeting apps.
Zoom is one of the most widely used video meeting apps.

Zoom has become one of the most well-known videoconferencing apps — in fact, its name is quickly becoming synonymous with video meetings. Before the pandemic hit, the company pushed Zoom mostly for corporate use, but it also provides a free basic version for individuals. Back in the beginning of 2020, probably because Zoom didn’t expect its sudden popularity among non-business users, there were several missteps involving privacy and security; however, the company quickly instituted a number of changes and updates to address these issues.

The free version of Zoom allows up to 100 users to meet, but there is a 40-minute limit on meetings of more than two people, which can be pretty limiting. At the time of publication, Zoom was not offering any special deals for those now working at home, but it does have a page offering help and advice to new users.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: 40-minute time limit
  • Group meetings: 40-minute time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes (to local device only)

Skype Meet Now

A longtime go-to for online calls

Skype’s Meet Now feature supports up to 50 people with a four-hour time limit.
Skype’s Meet Now feature supports up to 50 people with a four-hour time limit.

Skype has been the go-to platform for one-on-one conversations since its beta was released in 2003. Its Meet Now feature (accessed by choosing the “Meet Now” button on the left side of the app) allows for videoconferencing; up to 100 people (including you) can meet with a generous 24-hour time limit on meetings.

There is also a separate page that lets you create a free video meeting without having to actually sign up for the service. However, you get more features using the app, so if you’re okay with registering for a free account, you’re better off doing that.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: 24-hour time limit
  • Group meetings: 24-hour time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes

Cisco Webex

A corporate app with a solid freemium version

Webex, a videoconferencing app that has been around since the ‘90s, has a useful free version.
Webex, a videoconferencing app that has been around since the ‘90s, has a useful free version.

Webex is a videoconferencing app that has been around since the ’90s and was acquired by Cisco in 2007. While it’s been mainly known as a business application and continues to focus on serving companies, it does have a fairly generous free version that’s worth checking out. When the pandemic began, it widened the features of the freemium version from 50 to 100 participants, you can meet for up to 50 minutes, and you can create breakout rooms.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: 50-minute time limit
  • Group meetings: 50-minute time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes (to local device only)

Google Meet

Now featured on your Gmail page

Google Meet is a video calling option that requires Google accounts to use.

Meet offers a very simple and efficient way to video chat with colleagues, friends, and family — assuming they all have Google accounts, which is a requirement for both hosts and participants. In fact, Google is not only pushing people to use its Meet videoconferencing app instead of Zoom but also instead of its own previously pushed Google Hangouts app. You can find a Meet link in the Gmail app and in every appointment you make using Google Calendar. And Meet has some neat features, including real-time captions.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: 24-hour time limit
  • Group meetings: 60-minute time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

Microsoft Teams

Not just for business

Two people talking via Google Teams
Google Teams is a conferencing app that offers video meets as well.

Microsoft Teams was built as a competitor to Slack and is an especially good idea if you’re part of the Office ecosystem. While the application is mainly focused on business use, about two years ago, Microsoft stepped out of its three-piece suit and unveiled a free personal version of Teams, which lets anyone chat, talk, or have video meetings in a virtual shared space — you just have to create an account with Microsoft in order to use it. While the free version lets you have 100 participants for a maximum of 60 minutes per meeting, subscribers to Microsoft 365 can have up to 300 people video chat for up to 30 consecutive hours.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: 30-hour limit
  • Group meetings: 60-minute limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

Google Duo

A mobile app best suited to one-to-ones

Two people using Google Duo.
Duo is Google’s mobile conferencing app.

Besides Google Meet, Google also has had its mobile app Duo, which was built as a consumer app (whereas Meet was originally designed as a business app). While Duo was first touted as the app to use for one-to-one conversations and could only be used on phones, it will eventually be merged into the Google Meet app and, in fact, will replace it. Meanwhile, you can still use this mobile app for group meetings — as long as you have a Google account.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: No time limit
  • Group meetings: No time limit
  • Screen sharing: Mobile only
  • Record meetings: No

Zoho Meeting

The free version of Zoho Meeting now permits up to 100 participants.
The free version of Zoho Meeting offers a clean, easy-to-use interface.

Zoho offers a wide-ranging suite of online apps that range from the day-to-day (like email, calendars, and notebooks) to business and development (such as finance, HR, and marketing). Until recently, the free version of Zoho Meeting only allowed two participants, but it now allows up to 100 participants. Unusually, the free version doesn’t just include meetings but webinars as well (also with a limit of 100 attendees).

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: 60-minute limit
  • Group meetings: 60-minute limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

StarLeaf

A corporate meeting app with a free basic version

Two women using Starleaf video conferencing
StarLeaf offers basic free conferencing.

If you’re not a company, you may not have heard of StarLeaf. It’s really a platform for companies rather than individuals; its lowest-cost paid plan starts with one to nine licenses, suitable for a small business. But it also offers a basic video and messaging product free of charge for those trying to keep in touch during the pandemic.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 20
  • One-on-one meetings: No time limit
  • Group meetings: 45-minute time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

Jitsi Meet

Open source with plenty of features

Two women using Jitsi Meet video software.
Jitsi Meet is open source and filled with useful features.

Another “you probably haven’t heard of it” videoconference app, Jitsi Meet is an open-source platform that lets you easily meet online by simply going to the site and clicking on “Start meeting.” If you’re a developer, you can build your own conferencing app via Jitsi Videobridge, but most people will be happy with the quick web version, which offers many features found in more well-known apps, such as fake backgrounds, chat, session recording (to Dropbox), and the ability to “kick out” unruly participants.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: No time limit
  • Group meetings: No time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes

Whereby

Single meeting rooms with up to 50 participants

Whereby’s meeting rooms offers up to 50 participants.
Whereby’s meeting rooms offers up to 50 participants.

Whereby’s free version gives you the use of a single meeting room with up to 100 participants, along with the ability to lock rooms (participants have to “knock” to gain entrance). Each room has its own URL that you get to choose, which is great — assuming that nobody else has already taken that name. (For example, I first tried whereby.com/testroom and found it was already taken.) But it also has a chat function, lets you share a screen, allows you to mute or eject users, and offers breakout groups.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: No time limit
  • Group meetings: 45-minute limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

RingCentral Video Pro

A wide range of free features

RingCentral Video Pro has a good toolbox of features.
RingCentral Video Pro has a good toolbox of features.

RingCentral mainly sells business communications services but also offers a free video meeting app called RingCentral Video Pro. The app includes a nice range of features, including 24 hours of meeting time, screen sharing, recordings (up to 10 hours and stored in the cloud for up to seven days), chat, and virtual backgrounds, among others. It even offers closed captions.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: 24-hour limit
  • Group meetings: 24-hour limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes

Spike

A simple web-based system

Spike can be used without having to download anything.
Spike can be used without having to download anything.

Spike, an expanding email service, offers paid group videoconferencing to its subscribers, but it has also made a basic video meeting web app available to anyone who wants it. It’s quick and easy to use: just go to video.spike.chat, type in a name, and click on Join Meeting. Spike generates a unique URL for the chat and even lets you share your screen or change your background. And unlike most of the other services listed here, there is no maximum for participants.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: No limit
  • One-on-one meetings: No time limit
  • Group meetings: No time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

Telegram

Telegram has introduced group video chats. Image: Telegram
Telegram has introduced group video chats.

Telegram is a messaging chat app that offers video group chats also. It’s well set up for that: the app already has a feature that lets you create groups with up to 200,000 members, and you can have either private or public groups. For now, video chats are limited to 30 people (although up to 1,000 can watch); still, this was a welcome add-on for Telegram users.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 30
  • One-on-one meetings: No time limit
  • Group meetings: No time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

Signal

A group meeting starts as a text chat.
A group meeting starts as a text chat.
Signal offers basic video meetings.
Signal offers basic video meetings.

Signal is a communications app known for its emphasis on secure messaging via end-to-end encryption. Previously, it only allowed a maximum of five participants in its video calls; however, it now allows up to 40 people to take part via its own open-source Signal Calling Service. Signal is mainly meant for mobile devices; to use it on a desktop, you have to link it to an existing mobile app. Still, if you already use Signal messaging, you now have the option to use it as a meeting app as well.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 40
  • One-on-one meetings: No time limit
  • Group meetings: No time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

Messenger Rooms

Messenger with two people on screen.
While using Messenger, you can touch up your image or add effects.
Messenger menu of features
Pull up from the bottom for a menu of additional features.

Meta’s Messenger video app lets you do text chats with one or more friends and do quick video chats with up to eight people face to face. However, its most Zoom-like aspect is its Rooms feature, which lets you create spaces for discussions among up to 50 people. According to Meta, participants do not have to be members of Facebook or any of Meta’s other possessions in order to participate. It offers a load of fun effects, backgrounds, and emoji, and you can also do screen sharing, game playing, and video watching.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 50
  • One-on-one meetings: No time limit
  • Group meetings: No time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

Group FaceTime

Group FaceTime screens Image: Apple
Group FaceTime now accommodates both iOS and Android users.

iPhone owners will, no doubt, already be using Apple’s built-in video chat app, but since the app was recently updated to accommodate those not in the Apple ecosystem, it has become even more useful. You can start a group call from a Messages chat, add a variety of stickers, and even blur your background. However, while you can join a Group FaceTime session from Android or Windows, you can’t initiate one.

Free version features

  • Maximum participants: 36
  • One-on-one meetings: No time limit
  • Group meetings: No time limit
  • Screen sharing: Yes
  • Record meetings: No

More alternatives

There is a wide range of other Zoom alternatives out there, including RemoteHQ, Talky, and 8×8 (which acquired Jitsi in 2018). Some of these don’t have a free version, or the number of participants who can use the free version is limited. For example, BlueJeans starts at $9.99 per month for unlimited-time meetings with up to 100 participants, and the free version of Intermedia AnyMeeting allows up to four participants.

Until recently, the popular Slack app was mainly set up for text chat, with the added Huddles feature available for the occasional audio get-together. But this fall, Huddles will accommodate video meets for up to 50 people, along with persistent chat threads and screen sharing. Once it’s available, it will be added to this list.

Update August 5th, 2022, 8:30AM ET: This article was originally published on June 11th, 2020. Since then, there have been a series of changes. All entries have been updated, Hangout has been dropped, and several apps (RingCentral Video Pro, Signal, Telegram, Messenger Rooms, Group Facetime, and Zoho Meeting) have been added.

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