Large gatherings are back on the cards for the first Christmas in three years, but you might not be able to meet up with everyone in person.
Whether it’s a friend who lives abroad or family members at the other end of the country, video calls are a great way to stay in touch over the festive season.
There are lots of services to choose from, but many limit you to 40 or 60 minutes per call unless you’re willing to pay. However, there are some ways to get unlimited calls free of charge – here are your options.
If you’re planning to have an extended call with 3 or more participants, Google Duo is your best bet. It supports up to 32 people for as long as you like – you’ll just need to sign in with a Google account. It’s available directly on the website, but also on iOS, Android and via any Google smart speaker with a display.
Most people have forgotten about Skype these days, but it remains a great option for group calls. Up to 50 people can join for an unlimited time, and it’s completely free to sign up. Apps are available for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android.
If everyone you’re calling uses an Apple device, this is the best option. Apple finally added group video call support to FaceTime in 2018, and you can now have up to 32 participants on a call. The app comes pre-installed on any new iPhone, iPad or Mac, while you can even join with audio via the Apple Watch.
Apple added the ability for Android and Windows devices to join FaceTime calls via web links in 2021, but an Apple user will still need to send out the invite. It also feels clunky compared to the two services above, which are optimised for use across multiple platforms.
Google Meet has a 60-minute limit, but only on meetings with 3 or more participants. If it’s just you and one other person, you can keep going for up to 24 hours. Again, anyone with a Google account can create or join meetings.
Teams is traditionally focused on business users, but Microsoft launched a version for personal use in 2021. The limits here are similar to Google Meet – 60 minutes for calls with 3 to 300 participants, but 24 hours free for 1:1 calls.
Anyron Copeman / Foundry
Everything is accessible within the Microsoft Teams for Home app, available for Windows, macOS. On iOS and Android, you can use the same regular Teams app. It also works via the web.
Instant messaging apps
Apps such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat all have video calling functionality within the mobile apps. WhatsApp Web and a desktop Messenger app means they work on desktop too, but it’s not the most optimised experience.
As you can see, it’s easy to video call friends and family with no limitations, completely free of charge. You’re spoilt for choice with 1:1 calls, but there are also plenty of options if you have more participants.
What about Zoom?
Zoom might be the first video calling service you think of, but it’s not a good option for free calls.
The company now imposes its 40-minute limit on all calls unless you subscribe – this was added to one-on-one meetings, which were previously exempt, in May 2022.