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Zoom Review: The Video Chat App That Continuously Outshines the Competition

Editor's Choice: There's so much more to Zoom than just changing your background.

Zoom logo on laptop
Zoom stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic and has stayed consistent since.
Angela Lang/CNET

Zoom's video chat service has expanded well beyond its business setting origins over the last few years. Though the novelty of the service has worn off, Zoom has proven itself a valuable and reliable communication tool.

The service was first released in 2012, but surged in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, amassing 300 million daily users by June 2020. For comparison, Zoom only had about 10 million daily users in December 2019. 

Zoom

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Like

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Tons of great features for working and socializing
  • Strong service

Don't Like

  • Security concerns since the start of the pandemic
  • 40-minute meeting time limit for free accounts

Even a slate of security issues didn't seem to deter most from flocking to -- and remaining part of -- the platform to the extent that we now use "Zoom" as a verb. The service rose to the challenge of its influx of new users with remarkably few service disruptions. In fact, several of its competitors began changing their interfaces and features to better compete with Zoom. 

For those reasons, as well as the service's continued consistency and improvements, Zoom remains a CNET Editors' Choice. 

The right balance between function and fun 

Zoom changing background

What's more fun than beaming into conference calls from outer space?

Screenshot by Alison DeNisco Rayome/CNET

Zoom offers a number of useful features that make it among the top video chat services for both business and pleasure. The one that got the most attention early on was changing or blurring your background, which proved useful to hide messy offices or transport you into outer space. But the more under-the-radar hero is the "touch up my appearance" setting, which smooths your features to make you look a little more polished. 

Outside of aesthetics, Zoom has an easy-to-navigate interface regardless of the device you're using. As a meeting host or guest, you can switch from speaker view (big window focused on the active speaker) to gallery view (a grid of video rectangles from everyone on the call). You can also mute or unmute your microphone, turn your camera on and off, as well as turn off self-view, record the meeting, share your screen, virtually raise your hand and use the chat function or emoji reactions to respond. 

As a meeting host, you can create smaller breakout rooms, and enable much-needed security settings like a waiting room. Depending on which tier of the service you pay for, you can host up to 1,000 participants. 

Zoom also features an Immersive View which allows hosts to arrange up to 25 video participants and panelists into a single virtual background for a more cohesive virtual meeting space.

Zoom meeting on phone

You can use Zoom on your phone or computer.

Angela Lang/CNET

Useful features, even for free accounts

One of the biggest benefits? You can use Zoom for free. Anyone can sign up for a free account and host up to 100 participants for up to 40-minute group meetings, or unlimited one-on-one meetings. If you're looking for more, you can upgrade to Pro ($15 per month for each license), Business ($20 per month per license) or Enterprise (you'll need to contact Zoom's sales team for pricing), all of which come with unlimited group meeting times and other features. 

Despite having multiple paid plans, the service doesn't cut off free-tier users from useful core features like unlimited 40-minute meetings, group messaging and private DMs, cloud storage and Zoom whiteboards. Free-tier users don't even have to enter a credit card. This means if you're just looking to catch up with friends, you're still going to get good service from Zoom.

The competition took notice. Soon after Zoom's rapid rise in the early days of the pandemic, Microsoft rolled out a change-your-background feature on its video chat service Teams. The company's consumer chat service Skype also got a new free video chat feature called Meet Now. Google began offering a free version of its enterprise video chat service Meet. Even Facebook got in on the action, releasing a new consumer video chat feature called Messenger Rooms, allowing for free video chats with up to 50 people. (If you're curious, we've broken down how Zoom competes with Microsoft Teams, Skype and Messenger Rooms.) 

Easy to use and reliable

A major reason for Zoom's success across businesses, schools and consumers is how easy it is to get started with the platform. Open the app and start a meeting, or join one through a link. You're automatically placed into the meeting interface, which is minimalistic and easy to use -- you'll see the buttons to turn your mic and camera on or off, and tabs for security, participants, chat, share screen, record, breakout rooms and reactions. And that's it. You don't have to deal with calendars or a difficult sign-up process. 

Zoom is also relatively stable compared to other video call services -- unless your internet connection is wonky, it usually works smoothly. This is anecdotal evidence, but I've had fewer connection interruptions and lag issues using Zoom than other platforms, and have heard the same from my coworkers.

Zoom meeting on laptop

Avoid unwanted Zoombombers crashing your meetings by updating your security settings.

Angela Lang/CNET

Expansion into new services

Zoom is powering forward with new features and services that expand beyond traditional video meetings. For example, Zoom Events offers broader support for multi-day and multitrack sessions like enhanced sponsor and networking features, session streaming to the lobby and more.

Zoom has also added auto-generated captions for better accessibility, attendance status information for hosts, two-way chatting in the waiting room, more control to stop incoming video and optimization for the newer MacBook Pro. The meeting software also added games like poker and Kahoot. 

OnZoom -- though still in beta -- is a platform for posting and finding quarantine-friendly virtual events ranging from concerts to cooking and fitness classes. And new Zoom Apps, coming by the end of the year, will live within the platform and let you access tools like Dropbox, Slack and Asana directly from video chats for easier workplace collaboration.

Zoom also works on Amazon Echo Show devices, Google Nest smart displays and the Facebook Portal -- positioning the app as more of an at-home service for connecting socially than just a workplace tool, or giving people who are still working from home another option for connecting to colleagues. 

In short, Zoom's versatility, consistency, accessibility and continued improvements reflect why it's the best overall video chat software.

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