Stay in touch with friends and family whenever and wherever with these free videoconferencing services.
Alison DeNisco RayomeManaging Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
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While websites and apps for video chatting are nothing new, the pandemic gave them a massive surge in popularity and completely reshaped the market.
Popular preexisting services like Skype fell to the wayside, while services like Zoom quickly rose to the top. Though the demand for these video chatting services has cooled off some since 2020, there are still a variety of different options out there, each one offering its own benefits and drawbacks. And many of them are free.
Though Zoom claims the top spot when it comes to video chatting apps, the service has also struggled with security concerns. In the past, there were instances of webcam hacking, or "zoombombing," where people broke into chats and meetings without an invitation. And more recently, the service has come under scrutiny once again due to concerns that its cloud recording feature may be sharing video with people outside the call.
There are plenty of other video chatting options to use to stay in touch with friends, family and coworkers from around the globe. Below, you'll find our ten favorite video conference and video chat apps that you can use for free right now.
It should also be noted, however, that most of the apps listed here have seen security-related issues in the past, which the companies that own them (including Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google) have since patched.
FaceTime is Apple's proprietary video calling app. If you have an iPhone, iPad or Mac, it operates seamlessly, letting you start a video chat with any of your contacts (so long as they are also Apple device users) the same way you would a phone call or text message. While FaceTime's primary purpose is video chatting, as its name suggests, you can also do audio-only calls if you're in a place with a Wi-Fi or data connection but poor phone signal. There is also a Group FaceTime option, allowing you to chat with up to 32 people at once -- assuming they all have Apple devices, of course.
The Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users worldwide. It's easy to use, and works on Android and iOS devices. WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption, which means that only you and the person you're sending a message to can read what you send. You can use it to send messages, or make video or audio calls. Its global popularity makes it a great option for keeping in touch with family and friends worldwide.
Skype -- owned by Microsoft -- is available for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac, and offers video and audio calling, as well as a messaging feature. It has an easy-to-use interface, and supports up to 50 people on the same audio call (the number of video callers depends on what device you're using, according to the company). Skype also lets you record, save and share your video calls, and has live captions and subtitles.
If you want to video chat with someone but can't do so in real time -- perhaps they have a busy work schedule, or live in another time zone -- Marco Polo is the app for you. You can send video messages to individuals or group chats, which the other parties can watch and respond to at their leisure. Unlike Snapchat, Marco Polo saves all of your video messages so you can revisit conversations, and doesn't limit your video time. You can also add fun filters and voice effects if you want to mix up your conversations.
Facebook's Messenger app is primarily used for sending messages, but also includes a video chat option, making it a convenient choice for those who are on the social media platform all the time anyway. If the person you want to talk to is also a Facebook Messenger user, you can initiate a video or audio call with them through the app. And like on Facebook's main app and Instagram, you can also add a temporary photo or video to your Story on Facebook Messenger.
For companies that run on Office 365, Microsoft Teams brings together chat, video meetings, audio calling and Office apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint into one hub for teamwork. If you have Office 365, you already have teams, but if you don't, there is a free version available. Office 365 business plans that include Teams start at $6/user/month.
Jitsi is a multiplatform, open-source video conferencing service, which lets you use its multiuser conference client or build your own. All of its tools are completely free and open source.
Jitsi's prebuilt video conferencing app is called Jitsi Meet. It's fully encrypted and you can use it without creating an account. Invite users with a custom URL, and share your desktop and trade messages while you chat.
You can use Jitsi for web, Android, iOS, React-native and Electron apps.
Google's Hangouts Meet is a videoconferencing tool integrated into the G Suite platform that allows people to hop on meetings via a web link through their laptop or mobile app, or a phone line. If your organization uses G Suite, you can create that link directly through a Google Calendar invite. It's a solid free option for easy business chats if you already use G Suite.
Amazon Chime is the tech giant's communications service that lets you meet, chat and place business calls both inside and outside your organization in the same app. It runs through Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud computing platform. The service operates on pay-per-use pricing, so you can switch between basic features with no charge and professional features that come with a price tag as you need them.