Video calling has shot up in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. This is no surprise, as physical meet-ups are impossible and remote work has become the norm.
The interest in having platforms to chat with friends, hold group hangouts and team meetings has had a knock-on effect. Social media companies have stepped up their video calling game and joined the well-established platforms vying for this captive audience.
In South Africa, access to most of the major platforms is easy, though the connection may be temperamental. Most of the time this is a network issue more than a software problem on the platforms side.
With so many options many have chosen to stick with their favourite. . Others hop from platform to platform depending on the purpose of their call.
If you're looking for a new platform or just want some more insight into your options, here is a deeper look into South Africans choices when it comes to video calls.
Despite the fact that you may not have known about Zoom before April, it has overtaken Skype as the go-to name for video calling.
A popular choice worldwide, Zoom's rise in popularity definitely appears to have prompted an acceleration in video calling adoption by would-be competitors who might have had it in the pipe-line.
Zoom in South Africa is a great option because so many people have it. This means that most often it is easy to pick because it won't require anyone in the call to create a whole set-up in preparation.
Group calls can also be incredibly large, with 100 participants possible even in a free version. However, for South Africans bigger groups who are using the video option will pretty much always mean a lag in quality due to a strained network on someone's end.
The multiple options for viewing your group is helpful. You can switch from a grid view where you can see everyone to a single video that switches depending on who's talking.
Although originally designed for a corporate setting, Zoom has adapted well as a social video calling platform too. Many quiz nights, birthdays and even weddings have been participated in over its service.
There are some major drawbacks with the platform. The first being the multiple security issues the platform has faced. From dragging its feet on introducing end-to-end encryption for all levels to being a major target for successful cybercriminal activity, Zoom has the extremely security-cautious concerned.
Chats, that are protected by a password, are for the most part safe. Those who really value their security and don't want to take the risk might want to choose a different option.
Another con is that the free version is much more restricted than other free platforms, specifically the fact that users only have a 40-minute call window per session.
Zoom is free to use with set limitations. Those who want added features like longer meeting times, screen recording options and company branding have to pay for the different levels of service which can range from $14.99 to $19.99 a month (around R252 to R336).
The OG video calling platform. Skype has been around since South Africa still operated on dial-up and would only get a small grainy picture. We all thought it was revolutionary- because it was.
Despite waning in popularity, Skype still holds up. It also is more multi-dimensional as it's had the time to grow and adapt to different video calling needs.
Skype works well because it's had the years to perfect its system. It's got good security with end-to-end encryption, you don't have to download the system anymore if you want to hold a meeting or start a group call and there are no time limits at any level.
Alongside the standard features like screen sharing, Skype also offers call recording (though only for Skype-to-Skype calls) and live subtitles on screen which is a great inclusivity bonus.
Skype is also able to connect to your Alexa if you have one, which does make it better at integrating with the household assistant than other platforms.
Skype has a limit of 50 people per call, though even this is a stretch to call a con as it's unlikely that more than 50 people are needed on a call that often.
The platform has historically known to suffer when faced with temperamental networks. As a result, it can freeze quite often and South Africa's networks aren't the most reliable.
Skype is free.
WhatsApp is on pretty much everyone's phone so it makes using this video platform an easy choice, though mostly for social rather than work calls.
Already in the app, the video call feature expanded during lockdown to include group video calls. This was a smart move by the company as social group calls have surged in popularity.
It's simple, easy to use and you probably already have the app.
There are multiple ways to get the group call started. You can create a group to call, call an already existing WhatsApp group or add more participants to a call already underway.
As it's a fairly simple system, all participants' faces appear together in a block formation and are pretty clear to see, though this depends on the size of your screen and strength of your connection.
The connection is safe with end-to-end encryption, like that found in WhatsApp messages.
It really is a no muss, no fuss platform designed with social calls in mind.
The drawbacks for this platform are only an issue if you're wanting to do more than what this simple video calling solution has to offer.
Only eight people can join a group call and there are no bells and whistles like screen sharing. It is hard to call this an outright con though as the purpose of this platform is not as formal as major softwares.
Although pretty stable, callers can be frozen or fall out of the call if their network drops. This depends on the carrier, location of the caller and the time of day.
WhatsApp is free to download and the video calling option is included. Video calling uses more data than a message, so this is where the cost is to you.
Google Hangouts is Google's casual video calling app, not to be confused with the more business-geared Google Meet.
It is very much in line with most video calling apps such as WhatsApp and FaceTime. Since it is designed for social groups, the functionality is simple and users can see each other, talk and share files.
It is an easy app to use, with participants only needing a link to sign in to the chat. Although you can download the app for your phone, it is simple to click a link and join in from your browser, taking up less space.
The group size of 150 total audio and 10 video callers maximum is decent, and acknowledges the limitations of massive group video calls. Having a cap on the video calls helps, especially for those who don't understand how having 50 people calling in with video causes too much strain.
Google Hangouts works pretty intuitively, the only real con is that it doesn't have a tiling option, so you only get to see whoever is speaking. If this is your favourite feature then it's not such a con but it isn't everyone's cup of tea.
Since Google Meet has become free, Google Hangouts has lost a lot of its appeal and is clearly not where the company are putting their time and energy.
Google Hangouts is free.
Houseparty might have been another app you heard of or downloaded early on during lockdown. This video calling app/ social network rose to popularity quickly as it was the most effective app to allow group calls before WhatsApp stepped up its game.
This app is more fun than other video calling options because it's designed for fun, social engagement rather than being a hybrid or business first system.
Houseparty works differently to other video calling apps in that it is meant to be more like old school chat rooms, open and engaging.
Users call each other in "rooms" of up to 8 people. While these rooms can be locked to ensure no one else can drop in. If the rooms aren’t locked, users can freely move between different "rooms" that they have open and are included in. Much like moving in and out of various conversations in different parts of a house party.
Another great feature is the ability to play games. The app has a few built-in games based off of well-known group board and card games like Heads-Up and Cards Against Humanity.
The app has frustrating notification features, which means you have to go and deliberately customise them if you don't want to be notified every time a contact goes online.
The calls are often jarring as well as the app struggles with weaker networks, hampering the flow of social interactions.
Houseparty is free to download
FaceTime is only for Apple users, calling other Apple users. The video calling app lets you video or voice call using data to other iPhones, iPads or Macs.
Group FaceTime was introduced with iOS12 and operates much like a WhatsApp group call.
The calls can be pretty big, though again only for those who have Apple products. 32 people can join in on a group call.
The call has two view options, tiled and focus view. Tiled view changes depending on who is speaking, with the person speaking being the biggest and the rest visible but smaller. Focus view lets you choose who you want to see by pressing on their tile.
A quirky feature is that you can take a picture during the call, which has become popular as people post their calls on various social media platforms to prove they are still socialising during these isolated times.
The Group calls option is available for every Apple device, but older ones like the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, and iPad Air can get audio-only.
Apple has also had security issues with Group FaceTime in the past, with iOS 12.1.3, letting people listen in on private conversations. This was fixed but does highlight the need to be cautious about security.
The FaceTime cost is free. Since it runs over the internet, data usage is where the cost comes in.
Veedo is a proudly South African platform, created in collaboration with biNu. This one is strictly for companies as it operates very differently to the standard video calling site.
Veedo works on reverse-billing. This means that rather than taking from the user's data, the cost of the platform's use is reverse billed to the organisation or content provider.
The platform is great in South Africa where data is expensive and not everyone can afford costly video calls.
Universities, colleges, NGOs and companies working from home can bypass the issues of data costs per call and weak signal by using this kind of platform. Not all users have to be online either, some can dial into the call, which helps if they are in a remote area and cannot get a strong enough network signal.
It is also all browser-based to avoid needing data to download any extra apps.
The platform is a more aesthetically pleasing version of Zoom with all the bells and whistles. Users can share the screen, have chat boxes and the person in control of the meeting can mute and unmute participants.
An extra feature which is great for companies is the stats. Each meeting's speaker stats are available, so you can see who spoke for how long across the entire video call.
The meetings are also encrypted and like Zoom, can be password protected for extra security.
There are few cons with this platform because it is so niche. Only those who need this service would use it, meaning there are no overall glitches.
The number of video and audio participants is capped per subscription level however. So should a company need more people to be on a call but are unwilling to pay for the next level up, this is where a problem could arise.
The cost of the platform is staggered across four levels. Those interested need to contact the company to find out how much they would need for their level. However, the amount it would cost for certain kinds of calls can be considered using their data calculator.
Google Meet is Google's answer to Zoom. The more formal version of its two video calling platforms, Meet was originally a paid for service. Since the pandemic and country lockdowns however, Google have opened up Meet making it available for free.
The system is sleek and doesn't require an app download. The user organising the call simply sends a link to the participants who are then able to join from their browser.
Since it had been intended for businesses, Meet is a great well-rounded offering. It can accommodate up to 100 people, has screen sharing, chat and muting capabilities.
Unlike Zoom it doesn't let you set up a password to protect the call but instead gives the admin control over who is allowed to enter the call or not. This is an added security measure on top of call encryption.
It has options for tile or focused view, which gives it a leg up on its sister app and currently has no cap on call times.
To use Google Meet participants need to have a Google account. This is a small con though, as there are few people who have avoided getting a gmail account for one reason or another.
Since it made the feature free, Google haven't placed a cap on the free meeting times but says it will keep them to 60 minutes from September onwards.
Google Meet is free but users can access more advanced features by paying for the different levels fo G-Suit. G-Suit provides more business-orientated versions of its basic application, with things like shared calendars and Gmail Business email.
Facebook Messenger Rooms
If you haven't already noticed, lockdown resulted in many social media apps coming to the video calling party in a serious way. Facebook wasn’t about to be left behind and introduced Facebook Messenger Rooms
Connected through the Facebook Messenger app, users can form group calls easily by creating a room.
Facebook Messenger Rooms let you decide if you want to invite specific people or leave the room open for whoever wants to join from your Friends list. It's a nice middle-ground between Zoom and Houseparty.
You can also schedule a call, which is great for planning something like a friend's birthday party rather than having to send out a specific link to a whole chat or emails.
All the same functionality like share screen, mute, room locking are available as well.
Since it is one of the more recent video calling options it hasn't gained as much popularity as the others in South Africa so it's likely you'd have to explain to people where you want them to meet.
Everyone you want in the call would also need to have Facebook. The social network is becoming less popular, so some of your friends may have already deleted their accounts.
It is also run by Facebook so there is a need to question its security. Rooms are not end-to-end encrypted but rather only encrypted as it travels to their servers which doesn't protect your data from Facebook. Facebook have said they are working towards full end-to-end encryption for the platform.
Facebook Messenger Rooms is free.
Microsoft Teams is another platform that has exploded in South Africa, especially when schools were trying to carry on learning online.
Teams is designed for more formal meetings or classrooms and is not really an option for social gatherings.
Teams, much like Google Meet, is great because it is integrated with Microsofts other products like Office. This means a team can collaborate on their documents, while on a call and discuss it over the included chat feature.
This is what has made it one of the most successful digital workplace tools, before and especially since, lockdown.
On Teams, up to 49 people can be on a video call, with the usual capabilities such as screen sharing, file sharing and muting.
Teams is designed for workplace meetings but should you need to include someone from outside the team, this can be done through a specific invite to that person.
Teams also has a background blur feature like Zoom which helps avoid any distracting background movement or objects.
In the case of teams the cons really depend on what your purpose is. If you are wanting a stand-alone video calling option for your meeting, Teams isn't really the place because it is an entire integrated system.
Unlike Google Meet, which can be used as part of a collaborative of apps, Microsoft Teams video calling function is not meant to be divorced from the rest of its offerings.
Microsoft Teams is free by itself. It is also included in full Microsoft 365 suites which are paid for services.