Beginner’s Guide to Online Video Calls

Technology has become our primary way to socialize at a time when physical distancing is necessary. We can’t see our loved ones in person, and video calls are the next best thing. But even without the pandemic roaming around, there’s greater global mobility today than ever before. 

Luckily, we also have more resources than we had in the past. In this respect, using the internet to make video calls has become an important tool for communication. People can use video calls for private and for business meetings. Whether it’s the pandemic stopping you from physical interaction, you have friends and family living abroad, or you’re trying to get in touch with your remote work team, video calls are a great solution.

If you haven’t done any video calling before, however, you may be a bit confused about where to begin. We’ll show you how to video call through laptops or smartphones, and introduce you to the different types of technology (applications) you can use for the purpose.

How to Video Call

Your smart device will need two types of gear to make a video call: audio equipment and a camera. Most devices today come equipped with both. Smartphones usually have cameras on both the front and the back, while tablets and laptops come only with front-facing cameras – which is what you need for a video call. Additionally, all of these devices come with audio gear – a microphone and a speaker. Still, having a set of headphones (or earphones) can improve the quality of the audio and prevent echo (like the speaker hearing their own voice when they’re talking to you).

If you have a desktop, it’s likely that your monitor doesn’t come with a front-facing camera. In this case, you’ll need to purchase a separate webcam which you can then plug into your computer through a USB port. You may need to install some type of third-party software that comes with the webcam, but that’s pretty easy – the necessary window will pop up as soon as you plug in the webcam.

Now, let’s go over the different types of software you can use for various devices to make online video calls. All these services are easy to use and free!

How to Video Call via Smartphones

Smartphones are great for video calling – they’re lightweight, so you can easily move between rooms. They have two built-in cameras (front-facing and rear-facing) which you can alternate depending on what you want your contact to be looking at. Plus, video calling apps on smartphones are very user-friendly.

To make video calls with smartphones, first, you need to be connected to the internet. You can either use WiFi (wireless connection) or internet data (connecting to the internet through your cellular provider). If you use internet data to make video calls, make sure that the internet is included in your payment plan. Otherwise, you may be unpleasantly surprised when you get the bill.

Once you’re connected to the internet, open your video-calling app of choice. From there, you can select the person (i.e. contact) you want to video-chat with (some apps allow more than two contacts at the same time). 

Once you click on their name, in almost all apps, you’ll see a camera next to a phone dial icon in the top right corner of the screen. Click on the camera icon to video call.

Before we cover various types of apps that you can download to your smartphone, let’s first look at the programs that your mobile may already be equipped with.

If you can’t find these apps on your phone, or you don’t like the way they work, don’t worry! There’s plenty of other apps you can easily download on your phone that offer high-quality video calling.

You can ask your friends, family, or collaborators which app they prefer (or already have) for video calls, and choose accordingly.

Popular Video Calling Apps for Smartphones

Google Duo on Android Phones

Some Android phones (versions of Samsung, Huawei, and Google Pixel) come equipped with different Google apps, like Chrome and Google Drive. Some of them also come with Google Duo, Google’s video calling app.

The cool thing about Google Duo is that it also works on the web, i.e. it can be used through a browser like Google Chrome. So, if you want to talk to someone who doesn’t have Google Duo on their phone, they can still use Google Duo on their laptop to get in touch.

Additionally, while iPhones don’t come with Google Duo pre-installed, Apple users can download Google Duo. So, if you want to communicate with someone who has an iPhone, you can ask them to get the app.

FaceTime on iPhones

FaceTime is a video-calling application that comes pre-installed on most iOS (Apple) devices, such as iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch.

The downside is that if you want to talk to someone using a different device, you won’t be able to – FaceTime works only on Apple devices.

To use FaceTime, you’ll need to log in with your Apple ID.

Viber

Viber is an online messaging service that uses your phone number to allow you to send and receive messages, make voice calls, and make video calls. You can use Viber to communicate with people in your phone’s contact list who also have Viber. Although it uses your contact list, it won’t charge your phone bill, as it works over the internet.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is another popular online messaging service. It was recently bought by Facebook, and it works on iPhones and Android smartphones. You can also use its messaging features on Windows and Mac computers, but not the video-call features.

Skype

Skype is one of the oldest and most trusted video-calling programs. You can use it on all types of smartphones and computers, as well.

Unfortunately, Skype wouldn’t be our top recommendation, as it’s laggier (video lags behind) than most of the other options we’re talking about.

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger allows you to link your existing Facebook messenger account to an app on your phone. In fact, a lot of phones come with Messenger pre-installed.

Unlike most of the other phone apps, to talk to someone through Facebook Messenger you need to have them as Facebook friends on your profile, instead of just having them as contacts on your phone. 

You can also use Facebook to video call people from your PC’s browser. It’s quite simple – just open the conversation box with whomever you want to call, and click on the camera icon in the upper-right corner of the box. When you hover over the icon, the words “Start a video chat with so-and-so” appear.

How to Video Call via Computers (PCs) and Tablets

To make video calls through your computer (be it laptop or desktop), you need to be connected to the internet, either through WiFi or a LAN cable. 

Using a desktop to video call is a bit trickier than other devices, simply because it requires more external gear. As we’ve already mentioned, you’ll need a separate webcam as well as a headset (or separate earphones/speakers and a microphone).

Tablets usually only work with a wireless connection, so you can’t connect them to the internet via LAN cables.

Overall, tablets and laptops are easier to use than desktops, simply because they’re more lightweight and video-call ready (they already have the equipment – such as camera, mic, and speakers).

There are tons of websites and programs you can use to make online video calls on PCs and tablets. Some programs that we’ve already talked about, like Skype, need to be downloaded and installed on your computer to work. Others work through websites – such as Facebook, which we also mentioned.

To video call over PCs, you need to:

  • Create an account. Both Skype and Facebook will ask you to create accounts based on an existing email of yours. Some programs ask for you to create a username, as well (like Skype and Zoom).
  • Add contacts. You’ll need to add contacts to your accounts based on your friends’ names, usernames, or emails before video calling them.
  • Video call your contacts. Once you and your friend, family member, or co-worker are both online, you can call them by clicking on the camera icon to make a video call.

Popular Video Calling Apps for PCs and Tablets

In addition to Skype and Facebook, here are some other programs that you can use to video call whomever you wish.

Google Hangouts

Some computers come with Google Hangouts pre-installed. And even if you don’t already have it, downloading it is free. All you need to do is create an account and log in.

Zoom

Zoom has recently become one of the most popular video conferencing tools. You can use it for webinars, conferences, and just regular video chats – which is what you want to do.

All you have to do is sign up for a Zoom account and then download the Zoom app on your computer which makes it easier to join meetings and one-on-one chats.

You can host group meetings with multiple people by sending people you want in the video call a link to the meeting. Alternatively, you can ask the people you want to talk to to host a meeting and send you a link to it. Once you click the link, you’ll just need to sign in to your Zoom account to join the Zoom video conversation.

Zoom is free to use for all one-on-one video conversations. However, for group video meetings, you’re limited to 40 minutes unless you’re willing to pay money.

What to Expect From Video Calls

In general, video calls are great. They allow us to use technology to enjoy seeing and chatting with people that we miss, people that are far away from us. Once you’ve picked your favorite program, make sure that your friends and family have it, too, so you can use it to have video conversations. 

However, when you first start video calling, be ready for some potential glitches and drawbacks. For instance, if your internet connection or that of your interlocutor flails, you may experience some lag in video and audio quality. Luckily, this won’t always happen, but when it does, try and be patient.

If the lag doesn’t go away on its own, you can try hanging up the conversation and then calling again. You can also try restarting your home’s internet connection (by turning your modem off and on again) or your phone’s internet data (click once on the mobile data icon to turn it off, wait about 30 seconds, and then click on it again to turn it back on).

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