There was a time when video calls were the perfect remedy for homesickness, albeit subject to good Internet connectivity. Skype was the first to wow users by enabling video calls on PCs/ desktops, with the help of web cams. Several new video calling apps for the mobile platform have sprouted in the past few years. A tap is all it takes to make someone come alive on your phone. With WhatsApp introducing this feature - throwing it open to its one billion monthly active users worldwide - the popularity of video calling is set to peak. Based on your phone's OS and internet connectivity, you can choose from seven of the most popular video calling apps.
After introducing voice calls last year, the most popular instant messaging app introduced video calling to its users - 160 million active monthly users in India alone - this month. The move is expected to democratise video calling in India.
WORKS ON: Android, iOS, Windows Phone
Available across all major mobile platforms, video calling can be accessed by simply updating the app. Users can make a video call to any other WhatsApp user, irrespective of the device (Android or iPhone) he/she is using.
Experience: New users can install the app and register with
their mobile numbers. All the existing contacts in the phonebook get automatically added to the WhatsApp contact list. Making a video call is really simple: you can initiate a call by going to contacts and tapping on the video icon. It can be done directly from an individual chat window - the video icon appears at the top. In case the receiver has not yet updated the app, the video call becomes an audio call.
Connectivity: WhatsApp video call works over EDGE, 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi connectivity. On EDGE, the video pauses too often. There were some teething troubles during the testing; the call often paused and reconnected even on high-speed broadband connectivity.
Launched in 2010, FaceTime is a popular video calling app amongst iPhone users. It is Apple's proprietary app and hence not available on Android or any other platform.
WORKS ON: iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPad Touch) and Mac
FaceTime works smoothly across iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Users can register across various iOS devices using the same account.
Experience: As the FaceTime app comes preinstalled on iOS devices, it automatically registers with the mobile number on the iPhone. One can also link it with one's Apple ID (email ID). The call can be connected using either of these. On iPad and iPod Touch, users can register using Apple ID. The FaceTime icon appears next to contacts on the iOS platform, tapping on which initiates a FaceTime call. One can switch to FaceTime during a regular audio call by tapping on the video icon that appears on the screen. One can also easily switch between the front-facing and rear camera. In case one needs to check emails or do something else during the call, only the video pauses, and the audio continues.
Connectivity: FaceTime works over cellular connection and Wi-Fi, but struggles on low bandwidth connections. However, the call doesn't drop easily. In fact, on EDGE, the call remained connected even as the video went blank. When on low bandwidth, the video freezes, but audio continues.
A couple of years ago, Google clubbed a few of its chat services, including the good old Google Talk, and replaced them with Hangouts - an instant messaging and video chat platform. It is one of the most preferred video calling apps as it can be used for individual as well as group video calls with up to 10 people.
WORKS ON: iOS, Android, extension for Chrome OS for PC
It is preinstalled on Android devices and listed on Apple's App Store.
Experience: The app can be set up with a Google account. Contacts from Gmail are automatically synced with the app, and it fetches old chats, too. The interface is slightly different for iOS and Android - on the iPhone, the video icon appears at the top of the chat window; in Android, a direct video call can be initiated by tapping the '+' icon and selecting video call.
Connectivity: The video call connected easily over 3G network and Wi-Fi. If there are only two participants in the call, Hangouts may attempt to establish a peer-to-peer connection, instead of connecting through the Google server.
Although Google's Hangouts supports video calling, the company rolled out a dedicated video calling app, Duo, in competition to Apple's FaceTime and Microsoft's Skype.
WORKS ON: Android, iOS
The app is preinstalled on the Pixel smartphone, and can be downloaded for iOS and Android platforms for free.
Experience: Unlike Hangouts that requires your Gmail ID for set up, Duo only requires a mobile number to register. The UI of the app is simple, as it can only be used for video calls. Launching the app activates the front camera with the video call icon at the bottom. Tapping on the video call opens contacts that already have Duo installed on their smartphones. There is also a search icon at the top. By tapping on the contact's name, the call can be initiated. Invites can also be sent out. Duo has a feature by which one can see the live preview of the caller before the call is answered. It worked well most times.
Connectivity: One has to have high bandwidth to connect a video call on Duo. During our testing, the image quality wasn't very clear even when on high-speed network.
In the clutter of video calling apps, IMO stands out with its hassle-free video calls.
WORKS ON: iOS, Android, Windows PC
Other than being available as a mobile app for iPhone and Android smartphones, IMO can also be downloaded on a PC for real-time video chats.
Experience: It's convenient and easy. After downloading the app, one can register using one's mobile number (similar to WhatsApp installation). As soon as the app is ready to be used, it scans and identifies the contacts that are already using IMO. A video icon appears next to the contact. Tap that and the call gets instantly connected. When the call window is minimised on an Android smartphone, a small window appears at the top that continues to show the other person.
Connectivity: IMO works over 2G, 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi connections. Unlike some of the other video calling apps that struggle over 2G, this worked smoothly on EDGE as well. This is a great app for video calling in areas with low connectivity.
Hike is another popular instant chat messenger that introduced video calls on its platform in late October. Unlike others that stumble on EDGE, Hike claims to offer better connectivity.
WORKS ON: Android OS
Currently, video calling on Hike Messenger has gone live only for Android smartphones; it is expected to be available on the iOS platform in the near future.
Experience: Just like WhatsApp, updating the Hike Messenger app will activate this feature. New users will have to download the messenger and register using their mobile numbers. The video calling feature is slightly hidden as the call button at the top right within the chat window prompts users to choose between voice and video call. Hike also offers live video preview of the caller before answering the call.
Connectivity: While Hike claims that its video calling works smoothly over 2G connections, the video quality was not great when we tested.
Now owned by Microsoft, Skype set the trend and has been thriving with a set following. But it's not all smooth sailing.
WORKS ON: PC, Mac, Android, iOS, Windows Phone
Unlike other apps that aren't available for all the platforms, Skype is available in the form of apps as well for iOS and Android smartphones, and in the form of software for Mac.
Experience: After installing the Skype app, one needs to create an account. Contacts need to be added before initiating a video call. A request is sent to the other person, and only when he/ she accepts the request can a video call be initiated. Skype supports group video calling, too.
Connectivity: It fails to connect over EDGE, and takes a lot of time to establish a call over 3G network as well.