Tech Tips

Celebrating the holidays virtually? 6 video call apps to keep your family connected

With social distancing comes canceled holiday travel plans. But just because you’re not visiting family or friends in-person, doesn’t mean you can’t carry on your celebrations and traditions. In fact, according to a recent Asurion survey, 72% of America says they’ll be celebrating the holidays virtually this year.

From that same survey, of those who will be celebrating virtually, only half of Americans said they will be spending time preparing, but people have some major concerns when it comes to what may happen during the actual celebration. To help ease that worry, our Experts came up with this list of video calling apps and tips to keep you connected to friends and family during this holiday season.

Best video calling apps

No matter the time of year, video calls are a great way to keep your loved ones up to date with what’s going on in your life. That’s even more important this holiday season. These six video calling apps are available for smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs, and even smart TVs.  With these apps, everyone can join in together to open gifts, share a meal, play games, or even watch your favorite Hallmark holiday movies.

  • FaceTimeIf you have an iPhone, iPad or any Apple device, FaceTime is a great option to have one-on-one or group conversations. In the FaceTime app, you can invite up to 32 people into one conversation.
  • Google DuoThis video call app is available for Android phones and iPhones, tablets and computers, Google Duo lets you talk face-to-face with up to 8 people. It’s a great option for a family with Android and iOS devices.
  • Facebook Messenger: Yes, it’s typically an app for messaging, but it also has a video chat option. Most of your friends and family probably already have a Facebook account, so using this tool for video calls can be an easy-to-use option for most. Messenger allows you to see up to six people onscreen at a time, but up to 50 people can join your video call.
  • WhatsAppAnother popular messaging app that has a free video chat option. With WhatsApp you can use voice calls to talk for free, even if you’re in a different country. It’s available on Android and iOS devices.
  • Zoom: Zoom is available or Windows, Mac, iOS and Android and can be used to make video calls. The free version allows up to 100 participants in a chat, and up to 40-minute-long conversations. If your celebration exceeds this time frame, users simply need to restart their session. This is a great option for a video call app without needing to know everyone’s phone number.
  • Skype: Microsoft’s chat application allows users to send messages and make video calls from Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. Skype supports up to 50 people in a video chat allowing the whole family to get together virtually.

How to download a video call app

To download one of the apps on a Windows or Mac:

  1. Visit the services website (like skype.com, zoom.com, whatsapp.com).
  2. Click the download link on the page.
  3. Once it’s downloaded, open the file and follow the on-screen prompts to install the program.

To download on your phone:

  1. Open the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.
  2. Search for the app you want to use.
  3. Click “Get” or “Install.”

Heads up – no matter the device or service you choose, you’ll likely have to create an account. No worries, just follow the app’s prompts to easily create your profile and get started.

How to connect with family via video call app

Okay, I have the app now how do I connect with my family? Depending on the app, you can locate your family and friends by searching their username or phone number. Once you’ve made that connection, with most of these apps, you just need to click on a person or group and click “Meet Now” or “Invite to Meeting.” For those that require you to share a link, like Zoom, look for your meeting information and email or text that link to your participants to get started.

Can you hear me? While you’re on a call, you can turn your microphone on or off by simply clicking the microphone icon on the screen. Clicking this toggles your speaker on and off.

I see you, do you see me? First, make sure nothing is blocking the camera on your device. While you’re on a call, you can turn your video on or off by simply clicking the camera icon on the screen.

How to fix common video call problems

Is the video quality bad? Does the video drop because of a poor connection? Do you need to project to a larger screen? Our Experts came up with these online video call troubleshooting suggestions to help you optimize your video setup and get the best experience.

  • Check the internet connection. Video call apps like FaceTime and Google Duo connect more easily through Wi-Fi than using your phone’s data connection. If video conferencing on your computer, connect your computer to ethernet, if possible, to create an even more stable connection. Google offers a free speed test tool to check your connection — 10Mbps or more is ideal.
  • Weak Wi-Fi signal? If your signal isn’t strong throughout your entire house, especially in the room you plan to host your video call, install either a Wi-Fi range extender device or a mesh network. Click here for help deciding is a mesh network is right for your home.
  • Restart your device and close apps you aren’t using. Close all other unnecessary apps currently running on your device, as they might be slowing it down by running in the background. A quick restart should clear the air for connection.
  • Update the app. Is your software out of date? Make sure the version of the app on your device is the latest and greatest. Old software will not connect as well.
  • Notice your surroundings. Lighting and audio can account for technical difficulties too! Avoid backlighting from a window, yet make sure there’s enough light in front to illuminate your face. Limit background noise as much as possible, too.
  • Cast to your TV. Video chatting on your phone or tablet may not be realistic if you’re joining a large gathering. You want to make sure you can see everyone at once. Try an external camera compatible with your phone and cast the video chat to your TV or place your phone where the camera can see you. Here’s how:
    • To cast to a Chromecast from an Android:
    • 1. Make sure you are on the same network as your Chromecast and open the Google Home app
    • 2. Scroll down and select your TV
    • Tap “cast my screen.”

Now, anything you do on your phone will be mirrored to your TV until you disconnect.

  • To use Airplay between an iPhone or iPad and an Apple TV:
  • 1. Make sure your iOS device and Apple TV are on the same Wi-Fi network
  • 2. Open the control center on your iOS device
  • 3. Tap screen mirroring and select your Apple TV or Airplay 2 compatible device
  • 4. If a passcode shows on the TV enter that in the field on your iOS device.

Now, anything you do on your phone will be mirrored to your TV until you disconnect.

To learn more about how to cast your iPhone or Android phone to your Smart TV, click here.

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