BlueJeans is a time-capsule example of the current standard for video conferencing across devices. It links laptops and desktops and office room systems and browsers, and Android phones and iPhones.
Designed for use by professional teams, it includes chat messaging, screen sharing, call recording, advanced security, and it scales from one-on-one conversations to town hall-style meetings with thousands.
But you’ll have to pay for it. At any level of deployment.
And when dozens of your competitors routinely let groups of 6 to 25–and beyond–use at least a basic version of their service free of charge, it has to knock you down a peg.
Ever Evolving Video Conferencing
BlueJeans has been around for awhile now. I first used it in a news environment around four years ago, and can vividly recall the frustration as team member after team member was disconnected and booted out of even the simple chat service. Eventually its place as our team hub was quickly usurped by first by Google+ and then by Slack.
So I’m happy to report there were no such banishments during a recent return to the platform. In fact, across laptop, desktop, iPhone, and Android, everyone involved in the impromptu video call was able to hang on the line for the duration.
Getting them together in the first place was easy as well.
After signing up for the free 14-day trial (the signup asks only for your work email, making it clear this is a platform intended for professionals only) and downloading a little software you’re just a couple of clicks away from starting a meeting. Once inside you can choose between adding phone audio to your meeting or just doing everything by computer, and you can easily add external VC devices to your PC experience.
As soon as you enter a video call room you’re presented with a meeting link that can be delivered however you see fit to anyone who can open a text, chat message, or email. You can’t personalize the link as you can with other services–or the VC room itself, for that matter–but as the link is clickable on the other end no should find it too difficult to navigate. You can send this link individually or use BlueJeans to schedule a meeting a give everyone a little advanced notice.
One big plus–only the host needs to be a BlueJeans member. The link will direct people straight to your call without having to download anything themselves. Well, that’s how it works in theory. In my experience smartphone users generally have to download the BlueJeans app to activate a meeting invite, or be faced with an error message. But I will attest that it worked as advertised with a laptop.
Once your meeting is underway you get a sense of how flexible and functional BlueJeans can be.
Active Speaker Tech for Video Conferencing
All the controls and options in BlueJeans are neatly laid out down a single column alongside your main chat window. Some services sacrifice such functionality for a few extra inches of chat window, but having everything to hand is not only easy to navigate, it actually prompts you to use the facilities on offer.
That said, they will disappear on a smartphone if left untouched, a necessary concession to the limited screen space.
Those controls include the ability to quickly share screens–with an extension in the trial version–access to instant messaging, and a nice record function. It seems only the host can record a video call, but the recorded calls are stored in your own slice of the BlueJeans Cloud, and you can download them when needed.
The other feature worthy of noting is the active speaker tech, which automatically hands over the central chat window to whoever is currently doing the talking. It’s a nice way to follow a conversation among a crowd, even if the jump from bottom-of-the-screen obscurity to center stage can lag a little if people interrupt each other.
And while we’re on this subject, it’s worth noting that your own image during a call is painfully small on either computer or smartphone. This may actually be a bonus for some, as most of us are more self-conscious on camera than in everyday life. But it’d be nice to at least know if there’s something in your teeth during a meeting.
The more advanced features, like increased security and lockable meetings, and access for vision and hearing impaired users await you on the other side of the subscription fence.
Free Video Chat
Which brings me back to the only real gripe I have with BlueJeans–why can’t small-time users get free service?
In fact, I can’t even definitively tell you how much a subscription costs as BlueJeans don’t advertise their fees. You’ll have to get in contact with their sales team for a quote–although I have seen secondhand reports that subscriptions are around $10 per month per user.
It’s a hollow complaint I know (especially since BlueJeans is interested in capturing whole companies, rather than just individual users), but when Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Oovoo, AnyMeeting, and a host of smaller services can provide free multiparty video calling, you might decide there’s an opportunity being missed here.
But take a look yourself using the free trial, and see what clean, functional, flexible video calling looks like when it has the power to link people from just about every device and platform across the globe. Then give a resigned sigh, cancel your trial, and go download Skype.