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.
You might 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 the very best Skype software that lets you communicate on a variety of platforms – both mobile and desktop – proving that there's plenty of choice beyond Skype. Plus, all of these Skype alternatives are free, so you can get to saving up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
The best free Skype alternatives at a glance
A hugely popular Skype alternative for any device – desktop or mobile
WhatsApp is an enormously popular messaging and chat app, and for good reason – it's free to use, it offers end-to-end encryption, and it's available for all the main desktop and mobile platforms.
It might not be the most stylish looking Skype alternative in this roundup, but that doesn't matter – it has all the features you could want, including the ability to easily share videos, photos and other attachments, and set up groups of up to 256 people.
You don’t even need to create an account to use it – just a mobile phone number.
WhatsApp recently gained support for group video calls on Android and iOS – one of Skype's best features. You can only speak to four people at once, but that number might increase with future updates.
Another great Skype alternative, offering free voice and video calls
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.
Free, browser-based chat for up to 15 people – no 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.
Fun video chat with emoji and stickers, but watch out for 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.
Web, desktop and mobile chat, plus an unusual People Nearby feature
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 Microsoft Store, and a version for macOS 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 in some countries, but not worldwide. WeChat also veers into social networking territory by enabling you to meet new people with its People Nearby feature.