Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman

Zoom vs. Skype vs. Discord vs. Facetime vs. Google Hangouts (for Video Conferencing Calls)


Having difficulty choosing for the best video conferencing tool for your personal or business needs? Worry no more. We have compiled five of the top tools and did side by side comparison so you can decide according to your needs.

Dentist video conferencing with a man.

The first webcam was invented in 1991 at the University of Cambridge. The reason? To remotely monitor a coffee pot. To see who was drinking all the coffee. Or who was putting it back on the burner with only a few drops left in it. You know, the important stuff.


Almost 30 years later, the video conferencing solutions market is worth billions of dollars, and growing. The primary reason for this explosive growth is that video conferencing has proven to be an invaluable communication tool in the business world. Even before working remotely became common, companies had multiple offices. Video conferencing allowed employees to meet, communicate and get work done without physically gathering in one place, which saved companies huge amounts of money and time. Today, companies are more globalized, remote working arrangements are more the norm, and the speed of commerce is faster than ever. Not surprisingly, research shows that video conferencing helps coworkers in various locations feel more connected, and increases productivity.  As a result, video conferencing is a basic tool that almost every business needs.

As demand for video conferencing solutions continues to grow, there are so many available that ranking them all is nearly impossible. The website G2 provides ratings and reviews of almost 200 video conferencing solutions. Here we’ve done some of the legwork for you, by comparing five of the most popular tools: Zoom, Skype, Discord, FaceTime and Google Hangouts.

Zoom Meetings & Chat

Launched in 2011, Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing, online meeting, and group messaging platform. Though it hasn’t been around as long as some video conferencing applications, Zoom is a leader in the space, with users rating it at or near the top of most lists, along with Skype. Available in both desktop and mobile versions, Zoom lets users share video, audio, and screens across Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Blackberry, Zoom Rooms, and H.323/SIP room systems.

Zoom has an interesting backstory. The company’s CEO, Eric Yuan, used to be a coder, then a lead engineer for Webex, a leading online meeting and video conferencing platform. Back in 2007, when Cisco acquired Webex, technical problems were rampant in the conferencing technology industry – and Webex was no exception. Yuan was passionate about improving the platform and, for a whole year, asked Cisco’s management to let him rebuild it. Finally, frustrated, Yuan left Cisco and started Zoom. His team worked for two years building the platform, to ensure it would have none of the technical quality issues that had dogged Webex. Many said Yuan was taking a huge risk to enter a market that was already crowded, and dominated by tech giants like Microsoft, Google and Cisco. Yuan just insisted that, if Zoom’s quality was superior to that of other solutions, it would succeed. It appears he was absolutely right. Zoom is now one of the top conferencing technology solutions, and, in 2019, the company had a wildly successful IPO.

Features

Zoom’s HD video and audio conferencing solution includes a long list of features:

  • Support for video conferences with up to 1000 video participants and 49 videos on screen
  • Conference recording and searchable transcripts, stored locally or in the cloud
  • Collaboration tools — for example, one that allows several participants to share their screens at the same time, and co-annotate
  • Virtual backgrounds and appearance touch-up tools
  • Conferencing in Safe Driving Mode and Carplay
  • Mobile screen sharing and co-annotating
  • Easy transitioning from group chat to one-on-one or group calls
  • Participant engagement tools like polling, virtual hand-raising and attention tracking
  • Centralized IT management and remote assistance
  • Usage data analytics and visualization
  • Security safeguards including end-to-end encryption, password protection and role-based user security
  • Robust integration capabilities that amplify productivity:
    • To streamline call scheduling, Zoom integrates with Microsoft Office 365 and Outlook, Gmail, Google Calendar, iCal, Appointlet, Salesforce, Workplace, IBM Watson Workspace, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Skype
    • For content sharing, integrations include Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox and Panopto
    • To enable single sign-on, Zoom integrates with Okta, Centrify, Google, Facebook, RSA and Microsoft Active Directory
    • Marketing and process automation system integrations include Eloqua, Marketo, Zapier and Pardot
    • For conference room collaboration, Zoom integrates with Crestron and Intel Unite

If you want to host a meeting using Zoom, you will need to create an account. This is easy to do by logging into the app using your Google or Facebook credentials.

Screenshot of Zoom login page

Next, click the blue button labeled “Schedule a Meeting.”

Screenshot of Zoom schedule a meeting button

On the next screen, enter the details of your meeting. These include meeting name, topic and time (including time zone). You are also asked to indicate whether video should be enabled for the host, the participants, or both; and if the meeting should be recorded. When done, clock the blue button labeled “Save.”

Screenshot of Zoom meetings page

The next screen will ask which email application you would like to use to send your invitation. (Email is just one of several ways to invite others to participate in a video conference.)

Screenshot of Zoom email service

Zoom automatically creates an email invitation within your chosen application, leaving the “To” field blank for you to complete. All the meeting details are in the message — everything the recipient will need to join the meeting.

Screenshot of Zoom automatic email invitation

You can send the invitation immediately or schedule it to be sent at a later time. To join the meeting, your invitee need only click the link in the email they received, and enter the meeting password.

Ease-of-Use

Zoom earns high marks for ease-of-use. The interface is clean and clear, and initiating a video conference is intuitive.

Cost

Zoom offers four pricing levels:

Basic — Free

  • Unlimited 1 to 1 meetings
  • Unlimited group meetings (3 or more participants) duration: 40 minutes per meeting
  • Desktop & application sharing
  • Local recording capability

Pro — $14.99 per host per month

  • Unlimited 1 to 1 meetings
  • Unlimited group meetings
  • Unlimited group meeting duration
  • Desktop and application sharing
  • Local and cloud recording capability
  • Custom personal meeting ID
  • Administrative controls

Business — $19.99 per host per month

  • 10 or more host accounts
  • Unlimited 1 to 1 meetings
  • Unlimited group meetings
  • Unlimited group meeting duration
  • Desktop and application sharing
  • Local and cloud recording capability
  • Custom personal meeting ID
  • Administrative controls
  • On-premise options
  • Branding
  • Single sign-on
  • Dashboard and user management

Enterprise — $19.99 per host per month

  • 100 or more host accounts
  • Unlimited 1 to 1 meetings
  • Unlimited group meetings
  • Unlimited group meeting duration
  • Desktop and application sharing
  • Local and cloud recording capability
  • Custom personal meeting ID
  • Enhanced administrative features
  • Extended support and customization options
  • Additional integration options
  • Optional professional services

Pros

  • Excellent call quality
  • Reasonable pricing
  • Easy to learn and use
  • PCMag Editor’s Choice — Best Video Conferencing Software 2020

Cons

Zoom offers no toll-free dial-in numbers for the US or the UK.

System Requirements

  • An internet connection
  • Speakers and a microphone
  • A webcam, HD webcam, HD cam or HD camcorder with video capture card

Skype

At 15 years old, Skype is one of the oldest video conferencing solutions around. It is also still one of the highest rated by users.

Features

  • Hold HD video conferences with up to 250 people
  • Screen sharing
  • Conference recording
  • Live subtitles
  • Location sharing
  • Background blur (in case you don’t want everyone on your video conference call to see that your home office needs tidying)
  • File sharing – Drag and drop files of all kinds, up to 300 MB, into your call window
  • Real-time translation
  • Video call mobile phones and landlines (requires Skype Credit or a subscription)
  • Included with Microsoft Office 365
  • Initiate video calls straight from your inbox

Skype has become a little more complex since 2011, when it was acquired by Microsoft. Instead of one Skype there are now two: Skype and Skype for Business. Skype is perfect for personal use and small businesses (20 or fewer employees). Skype for Business lets you add up to 250 people to online meetings, provides enterprise-grade security, allows you to manage employee accounts, and is integrated into your Office apps.

Ease-of-Use

Skype’s user interface is very intuitive. In addition to easily recognizable symbols like the telephone receiver for audio calls, the video camera for video calls and the magnifying glass for searching, Skype provides friendly text prompts that walk you through the process of creating and managing video conferences.

To start using Skype, go to skype.com and click the button labeled “Download” in the center of the screen. After installing the app, you will need to select your language. (Skype has an impressive array of language options.) If you don’t yet have a Skype or Microsoft account, you’ll need to create one.

Next, set up your contacts. You can add people with Skype accounts, as well as simple names and phone numbers. You can also search Skype’s directory for contacts. Conveniently, Skype integrates with Outlook so all your contacts in that system, if you use it, are automatically displayed.

You can invite people who don’t have Skype to join a Skype video conference. Microsoft has introduced an app to enhance the experience for non-Skype users. When you send these people an invitation to your call, a link to the app is included.

Configure your view before initiating your video conference. Skype provides an option for group video calls called Dynamic View. This gives the person who is speaking at a given time the biggest video window. With this option, even when all participant are shown on screen, the person who “has the floor” is highlighted.

During your video conference, you can send files, share contacts, add callers, and share your screen. If you’re using multiple monitors and want to share your screen, you can indicate which screen should be shared. After your call, you may be asked to rate the audio and video quality, and detail any problems so they can be addressed.

Cost

Costs vary depending on which form of Skype you use:

Skype

  • Skype user to Skype user calls — Free
  • Skype calls to mobile phones and landlines:
    • Unlimited US & Canada —$2.99 per month
    • Unlimited North America — $7.99 per month
    • Unlimited World — $13.99 per month

Skype for Business

  • $2 per month, per user

Pros

For organizations that use Microsoft Office 365, using Skype for video conferencing — at least internally, and for conferences with fewer than 50 participants — is a no-brainer. It is already installed as part of the Office suite, and it’s free.

One of Skype’s major pros is its integration with Outlook. Outlook offers users the capability to indicate their status (in office, away, etc.). This status is also visible in Skype, enabling users to make sure colleagues are available before inviting them to a video conference.

Skype is probably one of the most globalized video conferencing apps available.

Cons

Though this is not necessarily a “con,” rumor has it Microsoft plans to phase out Skype for Business in the near future, replacing it with Microsoft Teams.

System Requirements

As Microsoft’s web site breaks the system requirements for Skype out by system, the list is too long and cumbersome to provide here. Please visit the Microsoft web site for system requirements for Skype.

Discord

Discord supports video, voice and text communication, and provides users with a unique place to meet, gather, and talk with colleagues, friends, family, and even strangers with common interests. The app comes in PC-based, web-based and mobile forms. Launched in 2015 by independent video game developer Jason Citron, the technology was designed specifically for gamers, to give them a way to gather around common interests, chat while gaming, and form groups to play multi-player mobile games together. Today, the app is beginning to gain major traction as a video conferencing, VoIP and group messaging or chat solution for business.

For a newcomer to the party – and a quirky one at that – Discord is a surprisingly popular communication tool. Its very quirkiness may be part of the reason. One thing that makes Discord special is its fun, unique interface. Even its black background and cartoony graphics makes its stand out from competitors Skype, Zoom and others.

Screenshot of Discord activity page

Features

Discord is unique in that it allows users to create chat rooms called “servers.” Servers can relate to particular topics, attracting people who are interested in certain things. Servers can be public or private, and relate to any subject. When you invite someone to a server, they receive a link to it. Servers can be subdivided into channels, for discussing sub-topics within the main topic of the server. To join a private server, you must be invited. Public servers are open to anyone. There is no limit to the number of servers you can join. All the servers you are a member of are listed on the far left-hand side of the app screen, and you can move from server to server instantly. To create a new server, click the “plus” sign.

Screenshot of Discord servers

Once you’ve joined a server, users and their comments appear in a list in the middle of the screen.

Screenshot of Discord channels

Search functionality lets users find others and add them to lists. When importing contacts, users can choose to connect their social media profiles, which enables them to pull in connections from platforms like Twitter. Your connections, or friends are listed on the left-hand side of the screen, just to the right of your server list. To start a video call, users click on a friend’s name. On mobile devices, click the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and select “Start a video call.” On computers, click the video camera icon at the top of the screen.

Screenshot of Discord contacts

Ease-of-Use

Discord has a slight learning curve. It’s very different from Zoom, Skype and other video conferencing solutions commonly used in business environments.  It looks different. It has these servers and sub-servers. There are “bots” everywhere. Once you get past that, it’s perfectly intuitive to use for hosting video conferences.

Cost

Though Discord is free, it does offer an upgrade called “Nitro,” which provides extras like additional server capacity, higher live stream quality, customization options. Nitro costs $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year.

Screenshot of Discord cost

Pros

It’s fun and it’s free. Discord also allows for a lot of creativity and personality expression, which can make it a great fit for certain companies. Like Zoon, Skype has been a PCMag Editors’ Choice for videoconferencing.

Cons

In most business settings, Discord’s gaming focus is going to be a con. Features that allow users to launch games from within the app, and see when others are logged into games, take up space, and are, at best, distracting and, at worst, confusing. Unlike other video conferencing apps, Discord doesn’t integrate with many systems commonly used in business, such as Microsoft Office 365. Finally, Discord is not suitable for hosting video conferences with clients or prospects. In order to video conference with anyone, you must allow them into the Discord environment. Unless they use Discord in their business, they may not understand or appreciate it.

System Requirements

Desktop

  • Windows 7 and up
  • MacOS 10.10 and up (Yosemite)

Mobile

  • iOS 10.0 and up
  • Android 5 and up

Browser

  • Google Chrome, Firefox 38+, Opera, Microsoft Edge 17+ (including Chromium Edge 79+ on Windows and macOS), Safari 11+ (available on macOS 10.13 High Sierra and up)

If these requirements are not met, you may be able to access some, but not all, of Discord’s functionality.

Screenshot of Discord browser

FaceTime

FaceTime is a proprietary app installed on all Apple devices that lets users make audio and video calls over Wi-Fi and/or cellular networks. It’s easily identifiable and accessible via the green “video camera” icon on every iPhone. FaceTime is not available on Android or other non-Apple devices, making it an impractical “standard” video conferencing solution for many businesses. For those who do have iPhones, iPods, iPads and Mac computers, it allows video conferencing of up to 32 users at a time.

Screenshot of Facetime app

Features

  • Host video calls with up to 32 participants – Callers are displayed on-screen in a tile format
  • Make and receive calls on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac computer
  • Switch from an audio call to a video call with the touch of a button
  • Start a Group FaceTime call during a Group Messages conversation

Screenshot of Facetime group conversation

  • Pause video without pausing audio
  • Use Siri or Apple TV to begin a video call
  • Record video calls
  • Transfer video calls from computer to phone mid-call
  • Enable parental controls, including time limits
  • Capture live photos during video calls

Screenshot of Facetime capturing live photos

  • Apply filters, artistic effects like on-screen writing, and animated “memojis” during video calls

Screenshot of Facetime filters, emojis, and other effects

  • Flip camera between front and back camera during calls

Ease-of-Use

Intuitive, simple and elegant, FaceTime is very easy to use. If everyone you want to video conference with is an Apple device user, and you don’t need to include more than 32 participants in any one call, it’s the ideal tool. The fact that every Apple user has the app built into their phone or computer adds a level of user-friendliness that few other video conferencing solutions can match.

Screenshot of Facetime app

Quality of sound/video

Quality is the reason so many people accept the exclusivity, priciness and learning curve of Apple products. FaceTime is no exception. Sound and video quality during FaceTime calls is excellent.

Cost

FaceTime is free. It is built into all Apple devices.

Pros

It’s easy to use and provides excellent picture quality. Also, Apple device users love it and have a level of comfort with it that will surely enhance productivity.

Cons

The obvious downside of FaceTime is that it only works on Apple devices.

System Requirements

  • iOS Version: iOS 4 or later
  • Mac Software: Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later
  • Devices: iPhone 4 and later, fourth generation iPod touch and later, iPad 2 and later, Mac with camera

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is well-named. It’s one place in the Google ecosystem where users can pause during or between activities and chat with friends and colleagues via voice, text or video. Like all things Google, Hangouts is completely cloud-based and accessible via laptop/desktop computer or mobile device.

Features

  • Hold HD video conferences for up to 25 people
  • Automatic screen focus
  • Screen sharing
  • Intelligent muting
  • Custom administrative control options
  • Share photos, videos, maps, emoji, stickers, and animated GIFs
  • Broadcast video conferences live using Google Hangouts on Air

Ease-of-Use

As ubiquitous as Google has become, most technology users intuitively know how to use Google products. Accessing Google Hangouts to initiate a video conference for the first time, we found the process completely intuitive.

Prior to scheduling your first video conference/call, Google recommends doing the following to make sure the call will go smoothly:

  1. Make sure your computer system/mobile device meets the system requirement for Google Hangouts.
  2. Connect a camera, microphone, and speakers to your computer or other device. (Often these will be built into your system/device.)
  3. When Hangouts asks to use your machine’s camera and microphone, click the button marked “Allow.” (You might need to modify your device’s settings to give enable Hangouts to access your camera and microphone.)
  4. Download and install the latest version of the Hangouts plugin for Internet Explorer and Safari browsers.

You are now ready to launch your first video call!

  1. Open Hangouts from the Google home page (click the 9 dots in the upper-right hand corner to find the Hangouts icon) or on the sidebar in Gmail. (If you’re not already logged into your Google account, you will be prompted to do so.) Screenshot of Google account login page
  2. Click “Video Call.” Screenshot of Google Hangouts dashboard
  3. Click the green button marked “Invite People.” Screenshot of Google Hangouts invite people
  4. A white box will open up. Start typing your contact names on the line. As you do, the app will search your contacts and automatically populate them. You can also invite people who aren’t in your Google contacts list. Just click “Copy a link to share” and paste the link into an email. Screenshot of Google Hangouts invite people button
  5. After selecting all the contacts you want to invite, click the “Invite” button in the white box. Your call will now begin. Screenshot of Google Hangouts
  6. During the call, click the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of your screen to access options like “Chat,” which will allow you to send text messages to call participants through the app. Screenshot of Google Hangouts app
  7. When you’re done, click the red telephone receiver icon to end the call. Screenshot of Google Hangouts app

Cost

Google Hangouts is free!

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Integrated with Google ecosystem, making it fast and easy to access

Cons

  • Google Hangouts doesn’t work well with non-Chrome web browsers
  • Conference recording isn’t an option
  • Conference size limited to 25 (may or may not be a con depending on your needs)
  • Dual stream video and content is not supported
  • Some users have complained about video quality and reliability

System Requirements

  • A Google account
  • Most editions of G Suite
  • Video call capability, including a USB web camera

Operating System

  • Mac OS X
  • Windows
  • Chrome
  • Ubuntu and other Debian-based Linux distributions

Web Browser

  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) (with the latest version of the Hangouts plugin)
  • Safari (with the latest version of the Hangouts plugin)
  • Firefox
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