You’ve been told to meet via webcam, and everyone you know uses Zoom.
But maybe you don’t like the Zoom feature that lets bosses check to see if you’ve been paying attention in a meeting or tweeting in another browser window. Or maybe all of your friends are partial to another messaging platform.
What other options are there for you?
Plenty. So today, as a public service, we offer your guide to the top Zoom competitors.
Before we start, know that you’re not the only one wondering about these apps. Seven of the top 50 most downloaded free Apple iOS apps this week are communications apps: Zoom is No. 1, followed by Google’s Hangouts Meet (No. 9), Microsoft Teams (No. 12), Google Hangouts (No. 29), Messenger (No. 30) Google Duo (No. 36) and WhatsApp (No. 38.)
Messenger, WhatsApp and Duo are aimed primarily at one-to-one chats or even small groups, not team meetings, as is Apple’s FaceTime, which comes pre-loaded on iPhones, so let’s focus here on the main alternatives to Zoom: Hangouts, Teams and Skype.
Both Hangouts and Skype are the victims of neglect by their corporate owners. Google has made various announcements that it plans to discontinue the Hangouts consumer app, as soon as this year, but people continue using it and are downloading it en masse. Google didn’t offer much clarification on Hangouts’ future when USA TODAY inquired. “No changes are happening right now,” is what the company told us.
Microsoft has said its Skype for Business offshoot will sunset in 2021 and is looking to push users to Teams. It hasn’t updated the classic consumer version of Skype since August.
Let’s clear up the confusion. There are two Google Hangouts apps on the app charts, Google Hangouts Meet and classic Hangouts. If you’re a student who is looking for a way to do online learning, a PTA group looking to connect and the like, steer clear of Hangouts Meet.
It’s not for you.
Google launched Hangouts in 2013, and in 2017 it introduced the enterprise-targeted Hangouts Meet as a place to “develop relationships with your team regardless of where they are in the world.” Meetings can be started only by subscribers to G Suite, which starts at $7.80 monthly and gives subscribers corporate e-mail and access to programs like Hangouts Meet and “secure chat” with Google Hangouts Chat.
Most readers will be interested in classic Hangouts, which is still free and open to everyone. To start a call, click start, copy the URL and share it with other participants. The app can also be used to make free international calls – although not in every country.
You can have as many as 25 people on your video meeting.
Advantage over Zoom: It’s more playful. You can add emojis, stickers and GIFs to your chat. Plus all those international calls.
This is the app that popularized video chat, especially for free communication (Skype to Skype calls) with loved ones overseas, and it still offers all that. But the neglect from Microsoft, and emphasis on Teams (see below), perhaps explains why Skype isn’t even in the top 50 rankings on the iOS and Google Play charts.
Still, Microsoft has offered some cool new features, like the ability to screen share and have as many as 50 people on a group call. The TV networks still swear by Skype, as you can see if you watch cable news, and watch so many people get interviewed bia the platform.
But the old snag that dogged Skype and made it harder to use appears to be still there – unless you dig.
Problem: To start a meeting, you need to invite others in who are Skype members and await their approval to connect with you, if it’s for the first time. Zoom, Teams and Hangouts let you send out an invite without registration. However, you can visit https://www.skype.com/en/free-conference-call/ and, like Zoom, you too can “Generate your free unique link with one click, share it with participants and enjoy effortless meetings with Skype.”
This is where Microsoft wants you now. And the good news is, the program is very full-featured, it doesn’t have the bugs that have dogged Skype with registrations and much of the best features are free.
Free users – anyone with a Microsoft account – can use Teams and have as many as 50 people on a video meeting. What you can’t do for free: use Teams to make audio calls to others in your organization or have much storage space for sharing photos and videos. Free members can have as many as 50 people in a meeting. Pro memberships start at $12.50 monthly.
One cool feature Microsoft has that Zoom and Hangouts don’t: You can blur the background to take out distractions. This can look cool, but only in certain situations. For instance, take a look at the screenshot here of me and my guitar. I’m good, but the guitar looks like it got wiped down by a paintbrush of soft focus.
Microsoft this week announced a similar feature for audio that will use “noise suppression” to weed out background noise, like crackling potato chips. The demo video looks cool. We’ll see how it performs when the feature is released later in the year.
Google has another video app, Duo, for as many as eight people on a call. And with this app, you can also make calls on the Google Nest Hub Max video display. Apple’s FaceTime can have as many as 32 people on a call, but it works only with people who have Apple devices.
So why is Zoom No. 1? It’s easy to use, free as long your meetings are under 40 minutes and it gets around the registration and connection problems of Skype. You can be sillier on Skype and Hangouts with stickers and images, well, at least for as long as Microsoft and Google will let you continue.
In other tech news this week
Facebook puts real COVID-19 news at the top of the News Feed with info from health experts to combat misinformation.
Amazon shut down closed its Prime Pantry service and said it would prioritize essential health and household products over non-essentials. In other words, most Prime shipments weren’t arriving in two days.
Yes, you can still buy toilet paper. We’ve got the skinny.
How to get the most out of Zoom
Where to buy online groceries
Comedian’s canceled tour lives, on YouTube
The art of the conference call.
Scribd is free for 30 days.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter