When I moved to California back in 1984, I wasn't able to see my folks as often as when I lived a day's drive away. But how technology has changed our lives! Now, my mom and I chat on our iPads over breakfast every morning, even though we're more than 2,500 miles apart, and she can stay in touch with all of her children and grandchildren, even the European contingent!
You can do it, too, and it won't cost you anything! Below the article is a summary of each of the services and the links to get it. But first, a few of my recommendations.
What Does Your Family Use?
|My cat also enjoys video chat with my mom.|
My mom and I both have iPads, so we can use Facetime. It's an Apple-only service that works on iPhones and iPads (iPad2 and above), and also on Macs with Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or later. We use it because it seems to have the best video quality, at least for our connections, so if you have a family of Mac, iPad and iPhone users, check it out. But it's not made for group video chats, nor for ordindary phone calls, and it doesn't have IM, although iChat and Apple's Messenger work well with it.
Skype is a good alternative, and it is the one that I usually choose for business because so many people around the world have it. It runs on everything -- Macs and PCs, iPads and Android tablets, and of course, Windows tablets. On everything, that is, except on the Chromebook. My brother and my sister and I usually use Skype, because we also have devices other than Apple. My mom uses Skype as her Instant Messenger.
Google Hangouts is good, and it's getting better even as we speak! Google is now integrating Google Voice into Hangouts, and is promising a new telephone dialer in the next few weeks so that you can use Hangouts as a phone, too. Hangouts is for Chromebook and everything else except the Windows RT tablet and Windows Phone (both pretty rare anyway). If you use a Kindle Fire, see our note in the Hangouts section -- you may need some help getting it..
Get All That Work on Your Platform
I suggest that you install any/all of them that your device can use. They're free, and you'll be ready to communicate with any of your family and friends. If you'd like to have someone to visit with occasionally or on a regular basis, but don't have friends online who could, let me know by Talk4TV PM or by email, and I'll try to match you up with some other members.
The Equipment You Need
If you have a tablet or smartphone -- iPad/iPhone, Android or Windows -- with a front-facing camera (one that looks at you), that's all you need for video chats. All modern laptops also have a camera, which is right in the center of the top bezel above the screen, as well as a built-in microphone and speakers, so you've got what you need there, too. If you prefer, you can plug in an external mike and headphones.
If you have a desktop computer that doesn't have a webcam, you'll need to get one. Let me know if you need some recommendations and I'll find some for you on Amazon.
How to Use The Services
Go ahead and get them, and set them up on your device. Feel free to ask your questions below (Games4TV members with Talk4TV will see the comment box -- if you don't see it, log in or activate your Talk4TV). Within the next week, we'll post a list of tutorials here for you to choose from, that will give you as much help as you need to get talking with your friends and family.
The Apps and Services
Facetime is Apple's video chat program for all of its iOS devices and for modern Macs (OS X6.6 and above). It is installed automatically on iOS devices when you set up and activate it, and if it's not already on your Mac, it is available from the Apple Mac App Store.
Facetime's video quality is quite good, and the calls are free and work over both WiFi and cellular data. But it is limited doesn't provide for group video calls, file transfer, screensharing, VOIP telephony, and of course, you can only talk to someone else on a Mac, iPad or iPhone. Facetime requires a front-facing camera, so the original iPad and the older iPod Touch models without the chat camera can't use it.
Since iPads and Macs can also use Skype and Hangouts, Facetime's limitations aren't that limiting. Nevertheless, when I am video chatting from my iPad or iPhone with someone else on an Apple device, I usually choose Facetime for the video quality.
Get it from:
iPad and iPhone: Facetime is already installed on compatible devices
Skype is an online telephone, video chat, and instant messaging service that is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world. It is now owned by Microsoft and has replaced Microsoft Messenger as the company's communication platform.
With Skype, you can talk to other Skype users, anywhere in the world, by video, audio or instant message at no charge. You can also use Skype to call landlines or cellphones anywhere in the world, on either a pay-as-you-go basis (buy some credit and buy more if/when it runs out) or by subscription. For example, the US rate is 2.3¢ per minute to call landlines or cellphones, but you can have unlimited calling in US and Canada for $2.99 per month. If you're on WiFi at home, you can use Skype from your cell phone via WiFi and save your cell minutes.
Currently, Skype is available with a free downloadable app for almost every platform that has a microphone and a camera, including Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad/iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire HD and HDX. However, it is not available for Chrome OS (Chromebooks and other Chrome platforms), nor does it work on Google TV.
Get it from:
Hangouts is a full-featured messaging service from Google. It features instant messaging, telephone (VOIP), audio and video chats, either one-to-one or with a group, screen sharing and file transfer. It is straightforward and easy to use, and all you and the person(s) you're going to "hangout" (sonnect) with have to have it is a free Google+ account. Calling other countries will cost you a little bit (but much less than Skype, like 2¢ a minute to UK landlines) and calling any phone in the US, landline or mobile, is free!
If you're on a computer, open the Chrome browser (if you don't have it, go to our How to Download and Install a New Browser article), sign in with your Google account (your gmail address and password) and then grab the new Hangouts web app from the Chrome web store. If you haven't activated Google+, you should do it now -- you'll see the + button in the Chrome browser when you're signed in, or go to plus.google.com to sign up. Mobile platforms can find Google+ in their App store.
The one outlier is the Kindle Fire. Hangouts and Google+ are NOT available in the Amazon App store (nor are other Google apps), and you can't install it directly from Google Play. They can be "sideloaded" into a Kindle Fire HD and HDX, but if you don't have a computer and/or aren't comfortable following technical instructions, find someone (friend or child) who is and give them the link to the article below.