The best free video calling apps

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It may be starting to fall open, but for now, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to limit personal interactions, and most of us still rely on video calls to keep in touch with colleagues, family, and friends. And for most of us – especially those in financial straits – free is best. Zoom remains at the top of the video conference apps list, but there are a ton of applications available that allow you to meet others online for free.

We’ve listed some of the best-known video conferencing apps, along with some popular text chat apps with video calling features. While most of these already have free versions, some provide access to additional features for those who are currently working from home or who want to watch friends and family members online.

There are a number of apps that we have not included, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and FaceTime, that allow you to do video chats. We omitted them because they require all participants to be members of a specific social network (Facebook, WhatsApp) or use a specific type of device (FaceTime, which is only for Apple). We’ve also tried to focus on applications that allow you to participate without having to download the app (unless you are the host).

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

The most popular video meeting app

Zoom is one of the most used video conferencing apps.

Zoom has become one of the best-known video conferencing apps – in fact, the name is quickly becoming synonymous with video conferencing. Before the pandemic hit, the company pushed Zoom mainly for business use, but it also offers a basic free version for individuals. As Zoom was not expecting its sudden popularity among non-business users, there were initially several missteps regarding privacy and security; the company quickly made 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 for meetings with more than two people, which can be quite limiting. At the time of writing, Zoom was not offering any special offers for those who now work from home, but it does have a help and advice page for new users.

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: no time limit
  • Group meetings: limit of 40 minutes
  • Share screen: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes

Skype Meet now

An old go-to for online calls

Skype's Meet Now feature supports up to 50 people with a time limit of four hours.

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

Skype has been the go-to platform for one-to-one conversations since its beta release in 2003. The Meet Now feature (accessible via the “Meet Now” button on the left side of the app) enables video conferencing; up to 50 people can meet with a generous four-hour meeting time limit.

There is also a separate page that allows you to create a free video meeting without actually signing up for the service. You get more features with the app though, so if you’re okay with signing up for a free account, you can do better.

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: 50
  • One-on-one meetings: no time limit
  • Group meetings: four hours per meeting, 10 hours per day, 100 hours per month
  • Share screen: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes

A business app with a solid freemium version

Webex, a video conferencing app that's been around since the 90s, has a handy free version.

Webex, a video conferencing app that’s been around since the 90s, has a handy free version.

Webex is a video conferencing app that has been around since the 1990s; it was acquired by Cisco in 2007. While it was primarily known as a business application and continues to focus on serving businesses, it does have one quite generous free version that’s worth checking out. During the current pandemic, it expanded the functions of the freemium version from 50 to 100 participants, and you can meet for up to 50 minutes.

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: limit of 50 minutes
  • Group meetings: limit of 50 minutes
  • Share screen: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes

Now showing on your Gmail page

Meet provides a very simple and efficient way to video chat with colleagues, friends and family – assuming they all have a Google account, which is a requirement for hosts and attendees alike. Google is not only urging people to use its Meet video conferencing app instead of Zoom, but instead of its own soon to be admired Google Hangouts app. (We previously included Google Hangouts in this collection, but Hangouts users are now actively encouraged from within the app to use Google Meet for their video chats.) You can find a Meet link in the Gmail app and in any event you makes with Google Calendar.

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: limit of 24 hours
  • Group meetings: limit of 24 hours until June 28, limit of one hour afterwards
  • Share screen: Yes
  • Record meetings: No.

Not just for business

Microsoft Teams is built as a competitor to Slack and is an especially good idea if you are part of the Office ecosystem. While the application is primarily focused on business use, Microsoft has stepped out of its three-piece suit and unveiled a free personal version of Teams that allows anyone to chat, talk, or hold video conferences – just create an account with Microsoft to access it to use. Currently, due to the pandemic, Microsoft has expanded the maximum number of participants from 100 to 300, and has moved the time limit from 60 minutes to 24 hours, giving it an edge over most other free video conferencing apps.

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: normally 100; expanded to 300 during pandemic
  • One-on-one meetings: normally limit of 60 minutes; extended to 24 hours during pandemic
  • Group meetings: normally limit of 60 minutes; extended to 24 hours during pandemic
  • Share screen: Yes
  • Record meetings: No.

A mobile app best suited for one-on-one

You don’t really expect Google to offer just one simple video conferencing app, right? In addition to Google Meet, Google also has the Duo mobile app, which is built as a consumer app (while Meet was originally designed as a business app). While Duo was first touted as the app for one-to-one conversations and can only be used on phones, you can now create groups of up to 32 participants and a web app is also included. All participants must have a Google account.

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: 32
  • One-on-one meetings: no time limit
  • Group meetings: no time limit
  • Share screen: mobile only
  • Record meetings: No.

A business meeting app with a free basic version

If you’re not a business, you may not have heard of StarLeaf. It is really a platform for companies rather than individuals; the cheapest paid plan starts with five licenses suitable for a small business. But it now offers a basic video and messaging product for free for those trying to keep in touch during the pandemic.

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: 20
  • One-on-one meetings: no time limit
  • Group meetings: time limit of 45 minutes
  • Share screen: Yes
  • Record meetings: No.

Open source with many features

Another “you’ve probably never heard of it” video conferencing app, Jitsi Meet is an open-source platform that allows you to easily meet online by simply navigating to the site and clicking “Start meeting”. If you are a developer, you can build your own conference app via Jitsi Videobridge, but most people will be happy with the fast web version, which offers many features found in more well-known apps, such as fake wallpapers, chat, session recording (to Dropbox), and the ability to throw out unruly participants.

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: no time limit
  • Group meetings: no time limit
  • Share screen: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes

Meeting rooms for one person with a maximum of 50 participants

The free version of Whereby gives you the use of one meeting room with up to 50 participants, along with the ability to lock rooms (participants must “knock” to gain access). Each room has its own URL for you to choose, which is great – assuming no one else has already taken that name. (For example, I tried it first where.com/testroom and found it was already in use.) But it also has a chat feature, lets you share a screen, mute or eject users, and currently offers a trial version of escape groups.

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: 50
  • One-on-one meetings: no time limit
  • Group meetings: limit of 45 minutes
  • Share screen: Yes
  • Record meetings: No.

A wide variety of free features

Glip Pro offers a nice set of features for a free video conferencing app. It says you have a business email address or a Google account and want to access your contacts on that account. But if you’re good at that, you’ll get 24 hours of meeting time (as long as you sign up for July), screen sharing, recording, chat, and virtual wallpapers, among other things. It even offers subtitles (although, as with many AI transcription software, some subtitles leave something to be desired).

Features of the free version

  • Maximum participants: 100
  • One-on-one meetings: 24-hour limit (for registrations in July 2021)
  • Group meetings: 24-hour limit (for registrations in July 2021)
  • Share screen: Yes
  • Record meetings: Yes

More alternatives

A wide variety of other Zoom alternatives are available, including RemoteHQ, Talky, and 8×8 (which Jitsi acquired in 2018). Some of these don’t have a free version or the free version is very limited. For example, BlueJeans starts at $ 9.99 per month for unlimited meetings with up to 100 participants, while the free version of Zoho Meeting only allows up to three participants, and Intermediate AnyMeeting allows four.

Slack is mainly set up for text chat, but it also gives you the option to make voice and video calls. If you’re using the free version of Slack, you can have a video call with a person. But if you want to have a multi-person meeting, as opposed to a one-to-one conversation, and want to do it for free, then you should look for an alternative. Peak, an email service, also offers one-to-one video calling for free.

There are also apps like Houseparty, which allow up to eight people to use a virtual room to chat. In fact, anyone can enter a friend’s online session without an invitation (although you can “lock” your room to avoid intruders). However, it does require all participants to register to use it – and the registration includes your name, email address, date of birth, and phone number. So we didn’t include it in our recommendations.

Update May 4, 2021, 2:40 PM ET: This article was originally published on June 11, 2020. Since then, all submissions have been updated; in addition, two apps have been removed (Hangouts and Spike) and Glip Pro has been added.