When the COVID-19 pandemic began this March and governments mandated self-isolation to limit the spread of the virus, smart devices became the primary means for people to stay connected. For students, digital platforms are essential for remaining in touch with loved ones, working, and balancing school responsibilities. Some platforms, such as WhatsApp and FaceTime, were already popular. Others, such as Zoom, saw a boost in popularity following the start of the pandemic. With so many options to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But fear not—The McGill Tribune has ranked these digital platforms based on accessibility, group capacity, and unique features, so that you’ll never be stuck in a dud, glitchy video call again.
7–Houseparty: Houseparty is great for socializing with a small number of friends. However, this app can only accommodate group calls with eight people, and does not offer asynchronous options—like text chats—for communicating with others. Houseparty is great for talking to a few friends, but its limited features make it impractical for larger groups or more formal purposes.
6–Skype: Skype is one of the original video calling platforms and remains useful as a means of meeting “face-to-face.” Users create groups by adding Skype contacts to a text chat or call. Video calls are free for up to 50 members, but different paid subscriptions or pay-as-you-go options allow users to make unlimited calls to landlines or have “Skype numbers” that enable them to pick up phone calls using the Skype app.
5–iMessage/FaceTime: iMessage and FaceTime are only available to those with Apple products, and allows to chat with up to 24 other users (though FaceTime notoriously glitches with large groups). Any member of a group chat can initiate a FaceTime call that available members can join. iMessage texts can include voice memos, file sharing using iCloud, and virtual games through GamePigeon, making Apple’s platforms great for one-on-one or small group conversations.
4–WhatsApp: WhatsApp is free and includes international texting. Group creators can create a link for people to join so members don’t have to be added directly, making it an extremely popular platform for students to chat about courses. Unlike iMessage, users can reply to a specific message, a useful tool when there are many members contributing to the conversation at different times. When initiating a WhatsApp call, however, a user can only call people who are in their device’s contact app, which could lead to some difficulties.
3–Zoom: Zoom has recently gained popularity as a means of hosting meetings for work and school, and can be used on almost any smart device. The meeting’s “host” can send a meeting ID or a link to join, with up to a maximum of 100 participants on the free plan. A “waiting room” can be added to assure that only host-approved members are allowed into the meeting. There are a myriad of features available to members: Screen sharing, virtual backgrounds, and a chat feature that expires at the end of the meeting.
2–Google Hangouts: Google Hangouts combines features similar to iMessage, FaceTime, and Zoom. Members simply need a free Google account to access the chat feature, which can accommodate 250 people. Users can video chat with up to 25 people from a pre-existing chat group or by sending a link, in which case participants do not need a Google account to join. Under utilized, Google Hangouts is a great option for student groups looking for a simple and reliable way to communicate.
1–Facebook Messenger: Facebook Messenger offers some of the best features: It is free across the world, can be used with almost any device, and offers both asynchronous texting and instant video chats. Further, it allows members to respond or react to specific messages, and can accommodate up to 250 group members. Aside from its practical features, Facebook Messenger has customizable aesthetics and a straightforward interface, making it the ideal platform for many study groups or clubs to connect.