Google has given up its crown, voluntarily. If you’d asked us a year or so ago to give our advice on which was the best group video call app for Android, we would have pointed you in the direction of Google Hangouts. It had provided the best answer to the central challenge of gathering on a smartphone for a group call–how to accommodate everyone on such a small screen.
Its active speaker tech automatically plucked from thumbnail obscurity whoever was currently talking and projected them center screen–it even worked on iOS. Google, however, decided to split Hangouts in half and dedicate both versions to the business community, leaving social callers with DUO, a stripped down, one-on-one app.
No one has since been able to match Hangouts for maximizing the small mobile screen. There are, however, a lot of contenders for Hangouts’ throne. The five apps below represent the best of the current Android crop–we’re judging them as social callers, accommodating groups of four to six people–and a few tips on what to look for in a group video calling service.
Busy, busy, busy. Facebook Messenger is intended to be the central hub of your online social life, and as such is packed with every messaging and video calling feature you could name–so much so that Facebook released a “Lite” Android-only version that concentrates on messaging alone and ditches cloned Snapchat features and, sadly, video calling. However, viewed as a video caller, Facebook Messenger is one of the better apps on offer for Androids. It’s reliable, easy to use, and can hosts group video calls of up to 50 people–although the reality is that only six people can share the screen at a time, with the rest relegated to being audience members. Those six enjoy all the masks, emojis, and links to the (very) wide Facebook world, though, and they won’t be disappointed by the call quality.
If you haven’t heard, there’s a new Skype in town. Microsoft recently gave the aging app a social media-focused makeover, and the result is a familiar, reliable group video caller with some modern standards finally thrown in. Most of the attention has gone to the messaging side of things, but group calling still holds up well–although, if there are more than four people on a call (tops out at 25) you’ll have to manually select the current speaker from a scroll of thumbnails at the bottom, which can be tedious. The new additions include messaging staples such as reaction and attention-seeking emojis, which streamline things a little.
This app, as we mentioned in our JusTalk review a little while ago, is more fun than function. In other words, it lacks the complex features of some bigger name video calling apps, but you can draw all over your friends’ faces during a group call. The app’s doodle feature–which lets you drag a virtual crayon across a live screen with your finger–is one of three features that make JusTalk worth considering. The others are a night vision setting, which improves the contrast of an incoming call, and a video recording function that lets you store clips from your group call to your phone for later sharing and reminiscing.
Kik is one of the more forward-thinking video calling apps currently available. Its big idea was to allow simultaneous messaging and video calling, without making users switch between the two. Instead, your video call chat windows shrink to little circles and hover near the top of your screen while you type away. As a result, those windows get very small, and it could be argued that it defeats the purpose of a visual call if you can barely see your friends’ faces. However, the feature is just an added bonus to a solid service that allows video calls of up to six people and offers all the basic graphic and functional features of a social chat app.
Google’s demise is the LINE app’s timely gain. The Japanese giant, with 200 million monthly active users, recently made two nice additions to its Android video calling offering. It now supports group video calls in landscape format (which is strangely rare), and it added a live streaming feature called Chat Live that supports groups of up to 200 people. The app supports four video callers on the screen at a time–and lets you arrange the chat windows any way you want–with the others reduced to thumbnails around the main frame, and, similar to Kik, you can shrink the video chat windows and use your phone for other activities. Big in Asia but yet to catch on in the U.S., if you can get your friends to switch from whatever they’re currently using, they’ll find LINE is a quality group video option.
And the Winner for Best Group Video Call App for Android Is…
Here at VC Daily we may have different priorities than younger users (emojis, masks, and other cute features don’t make or break an app for us) but we’d choose Skype over the others in this list any day. The bottom line is that Skype works, and its solid, reliable performance and uncluttered interface make it the best of this current generation of video calling apps for Android. The new upgrade will increase its appeal to social messaging fans, and though it’s been eclipsed in user numbers by Messenger, WhatsApp, and Snapchat, it’s the more reliable video experience.
Plus, it passes our three criteria for any group video call app:
- It works across devices, over network and wifi, and is reliable even in low coverage areas.
- It passes the eye test when presenting four to six people on screen.
- It incorporates messaging, emojis, and links to wider social media platforms.
If your Android video calling app can’t do all those things, try a new one from the list above.
Image Source: Flickr CC User Garry Knight
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