With stay-at-home remote work and learning the new norm during this pandemic, what were people supposed to do?
We took a good hard at four competitors this week, which all offer tiers of free service. Zoom is still far and away the most popular of all of them, top-ranked on Apple and Google’s app store download chart, along with Messenger (No. 10), Microsoft Teams (No. 14) and Google Meet (No. 15).
No other app has been pushed as aggressively this year. There’s an extensive TV campaign touting how Meet, which formerly charged a subscription, is now 100% free through Sept. 30. (Google has decided to keep it free forever, with paid upgrades for subscribers of the G Suite.)
And beyond the airwaves, Google has looked to make Meet a daily staple for Google users, by inserting tabs within Gmail, the most popular e-mail program, to start or join a Google Meet.
Compared to Zoom, Meet is very much of a bare-bones app. You can connect to people for a video meet, and have up to 100 in the room. The silly bonus features seen on Zoom of adding a blurry background to your image are not there. You can share your screen, as with Zoom, and access different cameras or microphones. However, you can’t record the call, something Zoom and other programs allow, unless you’re a paid subscribers to G Suite.
Tools like background blur, whiteboarding and hand raising are features Google says are “coming soon.”
Meet’s best feature, however, is maddening. Google will display a transcript of your call, in real time, and it gets the words pretty much right on. Fantastic! But does it offer translation for those speaking in different languages? Nope.
Can you download the transcript afterwards to have notes of the meeting? Nope to that, too.
With Zoom, there are hundreds of third-party apps that enhance the experience, including building transcriptions and translations, from the apps Otter.ai and Lingmo.)
Google limits the amount of time you can chat for free to one hour. Zoom allows 40 minutes.
An app aimed at enterprise has stepped up to the plate during the pandemic by offering its services for free. WebEx doesn’t charge you for meetings of up to 50 minutes, with as many as 100 people in the room. For features like higher-resolution video recordings saved to the cloud and longer meetings, rates start at $13.50 monthly.
Rate: 3.5 stars. WebEx is just as easy to connect to as Zoom is, and it gets a brownie point for a cleaner, less cluttered menu with an easier to read “Mute” button front and center. That should help some audio-challenged attendees and make it easier for the rest ofus to hear what’s being said on the meetings.
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This is the app that popularized video chat, especially for free communication (Skype to Skype calls) with loved ones overseas, and it still offers all that. But the neglect from corporate owner Microsoft, and emphasis on Teams (see below), perhaps explains why Skype isn’t even in the top 50 rankings on the iOS and Google Play charts.
Skype’s problem has always been that it was buggy. You could only initiate a chat with someone if they connected with you first and became a member of your contacts. And both parties had to download the hefty Skype app.
This remains true today, but Skype now has a Zoom-like “instant meeting” feature that lets people connect to you without downloads or registration. This usually works, until it doesn’t. Just ask my brother, who couldn’t see me on his screen when we tested it this week.
Teams is not just a video conference program but an element of a huge Microsoft business messaging app aimed at enterprise. Anyone with a Microsoft account can use Teams and have as many as 50 people on a video meeting. What you can’t do for free: use Teams to make audio calls to others in your organization or have much storage space for sharing photos and videos. Pro memberships start at $5 monthly.
But going outside your corporate “team” – if you’re using the program at work to connect with people who don’t work for your organization – can sound awfully convoluted with Microsoft-required administrator permissions.
A better idea. Just go to the Calendar or Meeting section of the app and invite someone. It works rather easily, but with caveats. There will be no meeting held if you use Apple’s Safari browser, and if you opt for Firefox instead, you’ll get a meeting that can only be held via chat, sans video and audio. Microsoft would prefer you to download their app to make it work instead.
Messenger Meeting Rooms
Facebook would like this private meeting room to be considered a “Zoom Killer,” but the reality is, it’s still Facebook, where the first choice, after you’ve selected your meeting room, is to put the video on your timeline for everyone to see and join.
So that pretty much knocks out educators and enterprise.
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