Free Video Conferencing Apps for Virtual Happy Hour
With social distancing measures still widely effect for the time being, it can be tough to see your friends and colleagues. Fortunately, several video conferencing apps let you stay in touch and see each other’s faces. With the plethora of free video conferencing apps, the apps enable you to do more than just talk to each other. You can play virtual darts, test each other in trivia, and enjoy a meal together, too.
Keep in mind that these are all free video conferencing apps. Because they are free, some have limitations. They might come with a time limit, or they might reduce access to premium features. But, in today’s world, having a free communication tool brings us together when we can’t be side-by-side.
In this article you will find out...
- Google Meet
- Video Conferencing Q&A
Zoom is so popular that it has become the go-to word to describe the act of video conferencing. Before social distancing became the norm, businesses used Zoom. Now, it brings people together to socialize. It also has become the standard in academia, health care, and government.
The free version of Zoom is rather robust. You get a 40-minute time limit and unlimited meetings with up to 100 participants. You also get to use their HD video and audio, active-speaker view, screen sharing, and virtual backgrounds. You have to download the app to your phone or computer to use it.
If you are the host, you have to invite your friends via email or text. The app generates a link to a room, and once you get there, the virtual happy hour starts. You can ask people to wait in a virtual waiting room. If you are the host, you can mute the whole group at once. As a participant, you can mute yourself and turn off your screen camera.
Once in the meeting, users can arrange their screens in a few ways. They can put the faces in a tiled format or set them off to one side, with the speaker enlarged in the middle. You can also use the chat feature to engage immediately while other people are talking.
Zoom received bad press about their lack of security after users complained about being “Zoom bombed” during their meetings. The app has upgraded its security features, so only invitees can enter the space.
- Robust app with many free features
- Recent security upgrades
- Background options are fun
- Download needed
- Time limit
Google Meet was formerly called Google Hangouts. This is another popular choice, especially for people who use Gmail and other Google apps. It works in the same way as Zoom, with hosts inviting people to meetings.
The app is free, and it usually has a 60-minute time limit for meetings up to 100 participants. But with the shutdown, Google has removed the time limit through September 2020. Like everything Google, developers are always making changes and updates.
With Google Meet, you can add extensions to play with the way your friends are tiling on the screen. It has a chat feature. Unlike Zoom, you do not need to download Google Meet. If someone invites you to a meeting, click on the link in the email, and the app brings you to a waiting room. You enter the meeting and begin your virtual happy hour.
Google Meet has a few unique features that you may or may not choose to use in your virtual happy hours. One is live captioning in English only. You can also adjust the layout to see your friends on a tiled screen or in columns with the speaker featured in the center.
Like Zoom, you can mute yourself and turn off your camera. These features are useful if your WiFi is limited or you have a large group that slows your computer. You can also share your screen and files with your friends. The easiest way to invite people to a Meet is through the Google Calendar app, which can integrate with Microsoft Outlook.
Unlike Zoom, Google Meet does not have security issues. The app includes anti-hijacking features to protect you and your friends while you hang out online.
- No download needed
- Temporarily, no time limit
- No security issues
- Frequent upgrades get confusing
Skype has been the go-to conferencing app for years. You can use it on your computer, phone, Alexa, or tablet. But, unlike Google Meet, to get the most out of the app, you must download it on your device.
The free version of Skype includes up to 100 hours per month, in four-hour blocks. The Microsoft product is available worldwide, which is why it has remained so popular, despite being a bit clunky to use.
Skype lets you have a virtual happy hour with up to 50 of your friends. The video conferencing app allows both audio and video conferencing, and you can begin the audio version without ever using your camera.
It is easy to set up a meeting with Skype. The app does offer a web version that does not require a download, but for the full features, a download is necessary. On the app, Skype offers HD video.
You can message people while video conferencing, and you can share your screens with them. During your meeting, you can record calls and capture subtitles in real-time.
Skype has robust security. Microsoft set the industry standard in video conferencing security with end-to-end encryption.
- 100 free hours per month available in four-hour units
- Up to 50 friends in one call
- Screen-sharing feature
- Clunky app takes too much space
Houseparty is an optimal choice if you are looking for a place to meet with a few friends. It’s a video-chat app that lets you hang out with eight friends. It is available on mobile and desktop. It’s different from the big three because it is like Facetime, but it isn’t limited to iPhone users. It’s not an app designed for the work world. It is designed for friends and fun.
The app does not have a time limit, but it does have a user limit. Instead of inviting people into the app, you go Houseparty to see who is already there, then you join. It’s a more laid-back, easy-going virtual happy hour option.
Houseparty lets you call your friends so they can join you instantly on the app. You wave at them – which is the equivalent of sending a notification. Also, unlike Zoom or Google Meet, the app prompts users to share their phone and social media contacts. Because this is a video app, you might not want to share all of them.
While the ultimate goal is to hang out with your friends in an intimate online space, some people use Houseparty to meet strangers. Before you meet with strangers, you need to add some friends to the app, so you have some people to interact with.
Houseparty lives up to its name and even offers free games for you and your friends to play. You can play games like
- Heads Up
- Chips and Guac (like Cards Against Humanity)
- Quick Draw (like Pictionary)
When you are in a room, you can lock it. But, if your room has an open spot, anyone can join. This app is popular with teens, and with their parents, who often show up unannounced in their Houseparty rooms.
- Designed for hanging out
- Free games
- Accesses contacts
- Only eight people in a room
- Limited security
Facetime is another app that was popular before social distancing made it cool to video chat. But, this app is only available for people who use iOS on their Macs or iPhones or iPads. It leaves out the entire group of Android, Microsoft, and Google users.
The app does not have a time limit. In some cases, the app isn’t free either. Apple does not charge much to use it, but if you don’t already have it on your iOS device, you might have to pay $.99 to add it.
If you have Facetime already, you reach people by either calling them or emailing them. The recipient’s phone or computer – or both – will ring until they pick it up. Facetime offers a picture-in-picture view, so you can see yourself and your friend.
Facetime offers a video-chat and audio-chat option. Of course, the video includes audio, but the audio does not include video. You can meet with up to 32 people in Group Facetime, but you must have iOS 12 to do this.
If you use the group feature on Facetime, your phone will tile the faces by who has done the most speaking. You can click on the faces to enlarge them. You can also feature your Animoji or Memoji character, which is a unique way to add some fun to your virtual happy hours.
When you are in a room, you can lock it. But, if your room has an open spot, anyone can join.
- Can use Animoji or Memoji
- 32 people can join a group
- No time limit
- Only available for iOS users
Video Conferencing Q&A
Q: What are the benefits of video conferencing?
A: Video conferencing offers people a place to meet in a virtual space. They can collaborate on projects, meet online, or hang out and enjoy a conversation.
Q: What are the essential features of video conferencing apps?
A: The ability to chat is the most important feature. Others include being able to access the app on any device and having an interface that is easy to use. It is also helpful to be able to see all of the people in the chat. Many people appreciate the chat feature to ask questions or talk to a friend in a sidebar.
Q: Do you need any training to use video conferencing?
A: The apps we included in this review do not require any training. They are user-friendly with intuitive icons.
Q: Who can use video conferencing?
A: Anyone can use video conferencing apps as long as they have a smartphone with updated software or a computer. Not all of the video conferencing software will work on all devices.
Of these commonly used video conferencing apps, the best one for a virtual happy hour depends on your needs. If you are meeting with a few close friends, then Houseparty is the best choice. The app is easy to use, and you can play games together, which only enhances your happy hour together.