Free video chat and instant messaging
The best free Skype alternatives
When it comes to messaging and video chat tools, Skype is one of the first name that springs to mind. Skype managed to build itself a huge following even before it was bought by Microsoft in 2011, and the user base has continued to grow ever since.
The appeal is understandable – Skype lets you send text-based messages, as well as conducting video chats, completely free of charge – but it's far from being the only option out there.
It may be that you have an aversion to Microsoft-owned software, or you might just like the idea of trying out something new. Here we take a look at five alternatives which let you communicate with people on a variety of platforms, both mobile and desktop, showing you that there is plenty of choice in the world of messaging and VoIP services. Which one will you opt for?
Free text messaging and video calls for desktop and mobile – the best free Skype alternative
Viber gets off to a pretty decent start thanks to the fact that it is available as an iOS, Android, Windows 10 and desktop app – including Mac and Linux, meaning this is one service that has all the bases covered. Another neat touch, for mobile users at least, is that you can connect to other users via their existing mobile number. This level of integration means that it sits very happily alongside your existing phone and messaging apps so you can take full advantage of its free offerings whenever you want to contact some you know to be using the app.
Viber offers text, voice and video calls free of charge, and if you are willing to pay, you can use Viber Out to make calls to any phone number in the world – and this can even be used from the desktop. Group calling is a great feature for groups of friends, and there is the usual selection of stickers to choose from. Oh... and we're happy to report that this is an ad-free app!
Download here: Viber for Windows
Download here: Viber for other platforms
A hugely popular Skype alternative, but free voice chat is exclusive to iPhone users for now
WhatsApp is possibly the biggest and best-known messaging app of its time, and it's extremely unlikely that you've not heard of it. But just because you've heard of it, it doesn’t mean you've used it – and if you haven’t, what are you missing out on? Like most other tools in this category WhatsApp is a cross-platform tool (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, even Windows Phone – but nothing for Linux users), and you don’t even need to create an account to use it thanks to the fact that it can make use of your phone number.
End-to-end encryption is included to allay the fears of those with security concerns, and while the limit of 10 people in a group chat is not as generous as it could be, it should be enough for most people. While you can conduct voice chats and send media files back and forth between contacts, video calling is not (yet) available to all platforms (it's iOS-only), so this could sway your decision about whether WhatsApp is the app for you or not.
Download here: WhatsApp for Windows
Download here: WhatsApp for other platforms
Free, browser-based chat for up to 15 people – no dedicated software required
Talky is a little different to most messaging tools in that it is, primarily, a web-based service. There is an iOS app available, but if you're looking for a true cross-platform chatting tool you are going to have to look elsewhere. You can have a group video chat with up to 15 participants, making Talky great not only for family and friends, but also for collaborative working. With this in mind, it is also possible to activate screen sharing so everyone involved in a conversation can see what's happening on one person's display.
Creating a chat room is incredibly simple – just head to the Talky website, type the URL you'd like to use, and you're ready to go. All that remains is to share the URL with people you want to chat with; to keep things private, rooms can be password-protected. There's no getting away from the fact that Talky is a little light on features, but sometimes simple is what's needed.
Try it online: Talky
Download here: Talky for iOS
A free replacement your usual call and messaging apps, with web and desktop versions
WeChat is mainly a mobile app – it's available for iOS, Windows Phone and Android – but there's also the option of using the web-based version of the service for desktop users who want to get in on the action. That said, it's worth pointing out that a mobile phone is needed to log into the web version of WeChat... an unnecessarily convoluted process that many people will find off-putting. There is also a Windows 10 app in the Windows Store, and for Mac in the App Store.
Once you're up and running, WeChat offers voice, text, video and group chats, and it can be used to replace your existing SMS and phone apps. It is possible to make calls to landlines and mobiles, but this is not an option that is available worldwide. WeChat also veers into social networking territory by enabling you to meet new people with its People Nearby feature.
Try it online: WeChat
Download here: WeChat
Fun video chat with emoji and stickers, but watch out for the in-app purchases
Available for every platform you could possibly hope for, ooVoo offers free video chats between up to 12 people at a time. In order to establish connections between you can your contacts, the service pulls in information from emails, instant messages and social networks, and this is something that may not sit comfortably with some people. Interestingly, it is possible to place a call to someone even if they are not using ooVoo as non-users are able to answer calls on Facebook.
The usual selection of emoji, stickers and GIFs are to be found here, and they can be used even during video calls. ooVoo may be free, but there are attempts to claw in money from its millions of users by selling avatars – this is something to keep in mind before letting your kids run rampant in the app.
With patented SuperClear technology to optimise video calls even on slow connection, this is a chat tool worth taking a look at if you want to see who you're chatting with rather than just exchanging messages.
Download here: ooVoo for Windows
Download here: ooVoo for other platforms