StarLeaf is part of a new breed of video conferencing providers that manage the oxymoronic feat of specializing in being generalists.
Its software and hardware let unlimited numbers of video callers get together across smartphones, tablets, and desktops, and do so across all the major operating systems.
But it’s not for the casual video caller.
Using the free version of the company’s Breeze video conferencing platform within a Chrome browser just highlights how much StarLeaf shines more as transport than destination.
It’s a proven winner at bringing together employees and collaborators scattered to the four corners and personally attached to their own devices.
Use it in a browser to chat one-on-one, however, and you get the feeling you’re using a Swiss army knife as a paper weight.
Browser-Based Video Conferencing
StarLeaf’s ability to function both through hardware, like its new huddle room hub, and software is a key part of its appeal.
Getting started with the free version through the Chrome browser is a matter of just handing over your email address and waiting a few minutes while you’re guided through the software download and installation. And it’s a pretty slim package as well–the .exe comes in well under 8 mb.
Once you’ve got yourself up and running, and had a quick glance at the limited settings and options, you reach out to fellow video callers through an email invite system. Unlike some browser-based platforms that let your partners join a video chat without signing up, Breeze makes everybody share their email address and download the app.
From there it’s the familiar path of clicking a contact’s name to start a call, and using the “video conference” button to add others to the mix.
Breeze performs a quick speed test of each device at launch, and will let you know what to expect from the service depending on your machine’s abilities and your internet connection. Ominously, I was told each and every time that my combination amounted to a medium quality service.
Outweighed by Skype
That message proved prophetic, as my calls to both other Chrome desktops and to smartphones regularly pixelated to a standstill, and even dropped out altogether.
Now, when you know going in that the service itself doesn’t rate your connection very highly it does prepare you for potential issues, taking away some of the frustration. But I quickly fired up Skype under the same conditions and had no such problems.
Those connection problems aside, the rest of the Breeze experience was straightforward and without surprises. You can forward calls, throw up a “Do Not Disturb” sign, and leave and receive messages should you miss your connection, but the call experience is nothing to give even Skype the jitters.
You’re given a choice of chat window size–essentially quarter screen or full screen–and with a small picture in picture viewer in the corner, which disappears in fullscreen mode.
Thankfully what also disappears in fullscreen is the main control panel. There’s no problem with the interface, it’s just that it pops up over your main call window every time you so much as brush the mouse, totally obscuring the person on the other end.
But it does allow you to share screens easily, and add callers to your social circle’s content.
And that’s about it for functionality.
StarLeaf Video Calling a Business-First Solution
StarLeaf’s presentation itself is very minimal, and beyond voice calling and messaging there’s nothing approaching the bots, games, and interactive masks other Chrome-based services will throw at you to keep you entertained in and out of a call.
But who cares, really?
StarLeaf is for making productive calls to whomever it is you need to see in person right now. It’s quick to launch once your contacts are assembled, and it doesn’t matter where they are at the time you come calling.
Plus, the free version can be used to invite guests and newcomers to the call without adding them to your own account–just let them know to act on their invite sooner rather than later so they’re not stuck downloading while everyone else is already chatting.
And if you want to improve your call quality experience, you can move beyond the Chrome browser and take a look at StarLeaf’s own hardware, which includes native Skype for Business platforms with touchscreen UI and instant meetings.
Leave that to the professionals, though. And maybe leave the Chrome version to the professionals, too. While it’s got the basics down, StarLeaf Breeze’s serious demeanor and lack of reliability when used with a basic home internet connection make it a better fit for office use than casual calls.