Skip to main content

What is Zoom? How it works, tips and tricks and best alternatives

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Popular video conferencing application Zoom Meetings has risen to prominence in recent months, with the widespread transition to remote working.

It's used primarily by businesses to host meetings with remote or international colleagues and clients - the basic version is also completely free of charge.

Zoom video conferencing is celebrated for its ease of use, high quality HD video and audio, and collaboration facilities such as text chat and screen sharing. Attendees can also join a Zoom meeting without signing into the app, but must sign up for an account to host a video conference.

Premium versions support Zoom meetings with up to 1,000 participants, call recording, unlimited phone calls and more.

Dashlane Password Manager, now with a free VPN

Make careless data decisions history with our dark web monitoring and alerts. Get Dashlane for seamless, private 'interneting' with 2FA (two-factor authentication) by default. Your privacy matters to us‎ so that’s why there's no limit on devices or passwords stored or shared.VIEW DEAL ON Dashlane Premium

Zapped by Zoom? Here's 20% off Ringcentral Office
Integrated video conferencing, screen sharing and messaging for teams big and small. Get more done before, during, and after meetings with fully integrated messaging and a modern business phone system. Join Ringcentral Office and get the first month free, buy a phone and get another for free plus 20% off. This is a limited time offer.View Deal

With the ongoing pandemic forcing many of us inside, Zoom video conferencing has also become the new means of keeping in touch with friends and family - a select few have even held their weddings over Zoom.

The Zoom app is available on all major desktop and mobile operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Android and iOS.

For more information, visit our how to use Zoom guide.

Free Zoom or paid?

Zoom is available free of charge to anyone that might like to use it, and the basic free version offers all the facilities most people will need. However, as with anything, you get what you pay for, because the free version has its limitations.

Free Zoom offers video conferencing for up to 100 participants, provided the meeting runs for no longer than 40 minutes, at which point attendees are ejected from the conference. If you don’t mind the hassle of dialling back in, though, the host can simply start another call.

It also supports unlimited one-on-one meetings, screen sharing, chat, virtual backgrounds, whiteboard and more.

The paid version, meanwhile, effectively removes time limits for group video conferences (pushing the cap to 24 hours), and also allows the host to record meetings to cloud or on-device storage and schedule repeat meetings.  

The most basic paid version costs $149.90/£119.90/AU$209.90 per year when billed annually or $14.99/£11.99/AU$20.99 per month, which is a little more expensive in the long-run.

Quoted prices do not cover additional add-ons - such as webinar facilities, large meetings (up to 1000 participants) and additional cloud recording storage - which will bump up the price.

Zoom for mobile or desktop?

It’s worth bearing in mind not all Zoom meetings are equal - the desktop version is kitted out with a number of features unavailable on mobile.

Beyond the most obvious downside to video conferencing on mobile - the comparatively small screen - Zoom for iOS and Android contains watered down and less intuitive versions of the chat and screen sharing facilities.

The mobile version also only allows four participants to appear on screen at once (as opposed to a maximum of 49 on desktop in gallery mode) and presenting complex charts and documents is made challenging by the small screen.

It’s also worth noting that iOS and Android versions of Zoom differ slightly. Zoom for Android, for instance, does not support everyone’s favourite virtual backgrounds feature - sorry Android fans.

For large scale business meetings with colleagues or calls with multiple friends, Zoom for desktop is the only sensible choice.

Zoom alternatives

While the word Zoom is used by some as a byword for video conference, there are many Zoom alternatives on the market capable of rivalling the big name brand.

Here are a few alternatives to Zoom that make an equally good choice for businesses looking for the best video conferencing services around:

- Microsoft Teams
-
Google Hangouts
-
RingCentral
-
Skype for Business
-
Cisco WebEx

Zoom - latest news and guides

03/06/2020 - Free Zoom meetings won't be receiving this key privacy feature

01/06/2020 - Zoom update brings a welcome security upgrade, to some users

21/05/2020 - 20 best Zoom and Teams background resources

21/05/2020 - UK gov buys hundreds of Zoom accounts despite security warnings

20/05/2020 - Zoom will stop accepting new users in some markets

18/05/2020 - Zoom outages struck this weekend, but it was quick with a fix

07/05/2020 - Zoom makes first ever acquisition in quest to boost security

07/05/2020 - New York schools remove Zoom ban after security pledge

30/04/2020 - Zoom admits lying about user numbers

28/04/2020 - Zoom picks Oracle Cloud to help meet surge in demand

24/04/2020 - Zoom update now lets you transcribe calls in real time

24/04/2020 - NHS bans staff from using Zoom over privacy concerns

22/04/2020 - Zoom update delivers much-needed privacy boost

22/04/2020 - Zoom account details targeted in latest cyber scam

16/04/2020 - Hackers selling Zoom Windows and MacOS exploits online

15/04/2020 - More top companies ban Zoom over security fears

14/04/2020 - Zoom virtual background: how to use, create your own and more

14/04/2020 - Zoom finally gets much-needed security feature

13/04/2020 - Singapore asks teachers to stop using Zoom

09/04/2020 - Zoom releases small but smart fix to keep meetings private

09/04/2020 - Zoom banned from Google worker laptops

08/04/2020 - Germany bans Zoom for official use

07/04/2020 - Zoom ups security to try and prevent 'Zoom-bombing'

06/04/2020 - ‘Zoom-bombing’ is now a federal offence in the US

06/04/2020 - Schools ban Zoom citing security and privacy concerns

04/04/2020 - Zoom is buckling under the strain of remote working

03/04/2020 - Zoom apologies for major security vulnerabilities, promises fixes

03/04/2020 - Zoom-related domains grow significantly as malware threat rises

01/04/2020 - Concerned about Zoom security? Here’s how a VPN can help

01/04/2020 - Zoom calls are not end-to-end encrypted

31/03/2020 - Zoom app hijackers disrupting calls with pornographic imagery

30/03/2020 - SEC steps in to prevent investors from buying the from Zoom

30/03/2020 - Zoom ditches snooping Facebook code from iOS app

27/03/2020 - Zoom’s iOS version is sharing user data with Facebook

26/03/2020 - Zoom video calls get a new background tools courtesy of Canva

22/03/2022 - How to use Zoom video conferencing 

The best webcams

If you're after a new webcam for Zoom video conferencing - or indeed any other kind of video conferencing - these are our top recommendations right now.