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What is the best way to make a video call from your Android device to a Windows, Mac, or Linux desktop computer, or an iPhone, or a Windows Phone? Since the arrival of Skype video calling, more and more companies have attempted to get in on the act, some good, some bad, but all claiming to offer video calling in addition to voice and instant messaging.
Which apps should you install for free cross-platform video calls that won’t cause issues for the person you’re calling? We’ve taken a look at five popular apps to see how good they are, and whether they’re truly cross-platform.
The Bar Is Set: Skype
As the leader in this area, Microsoft’s Skype is the app by which we compare all others. With versions for all three major desktop platforms, and for the main three mobile platforms, Skype is the big player. It’s easy to pickup your mobile and make a video call to a friend on their PC, smartphone or tablet. The Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, and various Smart TVs also have Skype apps.
With the ability to share files as well as talk to people, Skype has become a major collaboration tool over the past few years, its main rival in this space being Google Hangouts. Skype is also a popular choice for podcasters, with call recording tools proving particularly useful (you can even add sound effects to group calls using tools like Voicemeeter). Video calls can also be recorded.
It’s fair to say that Skype performance wasn’t initially great after Microsoft purchased the service and abandoned the peer-to-peer data networking model, but evidently the tech giant has been working hard in this area. Simple to use, yet packed with features, Android users can get to grips with Skype in just a few minutes.
As a cross-platform solution, Skype is unmatched (and probably the most secure of all video chat solutions), but the various alternatives come very close.
Via the Chrome browser, Google Hangouts can be used on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux (you can use the Hangouts add-on if you’re a Firefox user). Mobile users on iOS (iPhone and iPad) can take advantage of its messaging, voice, and video chat service, but if you’re using Windows Phone, Google Hangouts isn’t an option thanks to Google’s almost total lack of support for Microsoft’s mobile platform. This may change with Windows 10 for mobile, but until then, Windows Phone users are excluded.
Android users, of course, enjoy Hangouts as a pre-installed bonus, and naturally, the Chrome OS platform is supported too.
As video chatting goes, the standard is just as high as Skype’s, if not better. Naturally, quality depends on the connection strength and bandwidth of the participants, and if you’re interested in recording the discussion for later (perhaps as a learning or collaborative tool) applications are available to help here. You can also use the Hangouts on Air feature to webcast the call on YouTube.
Google Hangouts also supports the sharing of files for collaboration, which it does by utilizing Google Drive. The lack of support for Windows Phone is the only shortcoming with this video call service, which we reckon is the best all-in-one messaging and calling app for Android.
Sadly, Tango can’t really claim any sort of cross platform reputation as it supports only iOS, Android, Blackberry, Kindle, Windows Phone (7.5 and later) and Windows. Linux and Mac OS X are of course conspicuous by their absence, especially when Blackberry and Kindle apps are available.
It isn’t all bad news though. First and foremost, cross-platform video calling is available, along with voice and instant messaging. Meanwhile, Tango Out is a limited service for calling landlines and mobile phones around the world, offering 20 free minutes.
One-to-one video calls with Tango have the same strengths and weaknesses as Skype, really, with good quality pictures punctuated with lags and choppy audio. As with all of these apps, the best results come if both users are connected to WiFi rather than mobile Internet.
Attempting to outdo the competition, ooVoo claims that it is “everywhere” and offers apps for Amazon Fire devices, Android phones and tablets, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Mac OS X, Windows Phone, and Windows desktop.
As many as 12 people can engage in a single video call, making ooVoo ideal for getting together with friends or family, or holding an online meeting. OoVoo also features a built in video call recording tool for PC users, as well as the ability to watch YouTube videos as a group. Like Skype, ooVoo also has a credit purchase system for calling landlines.
But ooVoo isn’t perfect: there’s no Linux version, which comes as a bit of a surprise given the increasing popularity of Ubuntu and other distros. Having support for the Amazon Fire Phone isn’t exactly exciting — most people have never even seen that device in real life — so ignoring Linux seems unusual.
Should you have no need to video chat with a friend, relative or colleague while you (or they) are using a desktop computer, IMO messenger and video calling app is useful for chatting with your contacts as long as you’re all using iOS or Android.
This limitation is a bit of a pain, but IMO does offer encrypted chats and calls, photo and video sharing, and stickers (obviously not actual stickers). As you might have guessed, IMO is pitched at a young, vibrant market of smartphone users rather than the more universal approach of the other apps.
Video call quality is as expected, but if you’re going to opt for IMO, look out for unsolicited messages, which are a real problem on the service, certainly as far as Android users are concerned.
What’s Your Favorite?
We think these five apps are the best free cross-platform video calling tools. But what do you think? Have you run into problems with any of them? Perhaps you have a better option? Tell us about it in the comments.