The Best Smartphone for Video Calling Is More Just Than a Big Screen

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Man uses smartphone for video calling

The Samsung Galaxy Fold has video calling beauty that runs more than skin deep.

Regardless of how the expanding phone lives up to the hype, the way it looks should have you staring at the screen on your own device and wondering whether bigger would be better.

The device is almost two inches wider than the Galaxy S10 and the iPhone XS when fully opened–that doesn’t sound like much (especially when it costs almost $2,000) but in the small world of smartphone video, it’s a 67% increase.

In video calling terms, that’s an evolutionary leap.

However, while that screen size may have stolen all the headlines–and limited display space has been the handicap of smartphone video calling since its inception–there’s another feature of the Fold that video callers will love.

The batteries.

The best smartphones for video calling are about performance as much as they’re about display, and having the capacity to cope with the high-power demands of video communication is a big advantage.

By all accounts, the Fold has that power. That checks off another of our video calling smartphone must-haves.

While we won’t be rushing out to upgrade until the Fold has passed through a few months of real-world consumer testing, it does prompt us to take another look at the elements that go into making a smartphone ideal for video calling.

Finding the Best Smartphone for Video Calling

Smartphones and tablets have been the dominant devices used to connect to the internet for several years now. Given the importance they have in connecting us to the wider world, we are more likely to use our phones for messaging and web browsing than we are for communicating in-person with others.

More important than the size of your display is its clarity.

Luckily, the elements that make for a good video calling experience are tied up in these same pursuits. On-demand video requires a good display. Chat is anchored in intuitive controls. Streaming must be supported by high-performance batteries.

Video calling may not be the foremost function on the minds of mobile developers, but all the elements for a good video call should be present in the aggregate.

Here’s our list of the essentials:

Camera resolution: More important than the size of your display is its clarity. That clarity is measured in the megapixels that make up a phone’s resolution. There’s a big spread in megapixel display across the leading phones: the Galaxy S7 offers five, the iPhone 7 packs in 16. The higher the number, the clearer your view.

Display size: The space given to your phone’s digital display is about more than just the physical height and width of your phone. Much has been made of to-the-edge screen availability, but you should always get a look at how much of that potential space is devoted to imagery and how much is lost to app content.

Battery life: This is one of the biggest factors in a quality video calling experience, and battery life shortcomings will quickly become evident as you make your first connections. Processing graphics, crunching streamed information, and simultaneously sending and receiving heavy data packets takes a big toll on your energy reserves.

Even the top smartphones have iffy speakers at best, so stick with a phone that has an audio jack that allows you to use headphones or earbuds.

Speaker quality: Video calling is an aural as well as a visual experience. The popularity of live streamed and stored music on mobiles means most devices come with decent sound built-in, and there isn’t much variance between specifications like frequency response, dynamic range, and harmonic distortion between high-end models. Still, even the top smartphones have iffy speakers at best, so for the best sound experience, stick with a phone that has an audio jack that allows you to easily use headphones or earbuds while on your video call.

Wide-angle lens: One-on-one video calling isn’t dependent on a wide camera angle, but if you want to live stream on location or gather several friends around the phone, you’ll value a wide-angle lens. Phones that hype their selfie prowess often possess lenses that work well for video calling purposes.

Design: Video calling on smartphones is conferencing in miniature. As such, pay attention to where the buttons and controls are placed on your phone and how well they can be accessed (although most of the time you’ll be using touchscreen technology).

Don’t Forget Your Video Calling Vendor

The final consideration is the suitability of your phone to the leading video conferencing apps.

Most of the leading free and chat-based apps provide a common experience across operating systems.

The most divisive video platform is the iOS-only Facetime, which you cannot access on Android or Windows phones. Most of the leading free and chat-based apps–such as Skype, WhatsApp, Messenger, and other similar platforms–should provide a common experience across operating systems.

That will change once you scale up to a more complete vendor, however. Dedicated services including Teams, Zoom, and BlueJeans will usually cross the OS divide, but you should always make sure if you’re locked into a VC vendor and looking for a smartphone that’s compatible with your platform.

Now, whether it’s the Samsung Galaxy Fold or something a little more…traditional: go forth and find a smartphone that will make video calling a joy.

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