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Microsoft Teams update: The best alternatives to Zoom for video calling

Anthony Cuthbertson
·5-min read
<p>The new Microsoft Teams update is useful for teachers</p> (iStock)

The new Microsoft Teams update is useful for teachers

(iStock)

During the initial outbreak of coronavirus, almost everyone had to turn to technology to stay connected, whether it was for work, weekly quizzes or family video calls.

Now that England is in its third national lockdown, the whole population is be required to stay at home other than for limited exceptions, and all schools and colleges will close until at least mid-February.

As a result, we’re relying on video chat apps again for work and social interaction.

Video conferencing app Zoom has been the first choice for many, but it has faced some technical issues, leaving some users unable to start or join video meetings.

Since its surge in popularity during the pandemic, questions have also been raised about how secure it actually is.

It has faced increased scrutiny about the way it handles its users personal information, while also drawing attention to a phenomenon known as "Zoombombing".

The app has hired high-profile security experts and released new updates in an attempt to grapple with security issues but governments and organisations continue to ban Zoom meetings.

Fortunately, a range of alternatives offer options for everything from private business meetings, to socialising with friends.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Microsoft Teams

Originally built as a competitor to the hugely popular workplace chat tool Slack, Microsoft Teams has since evolved into an all-encompassing platform that supports everything from video conferencing to PowerPoint presentations.

Microsoft Teams integrates Office 365 so that sharing Microsoft Word, Excel and other Office apps is seamless, making it a popular choice for schools.

The platform has now announced its new update will make remote learning easier thanks to the “class insights” tab, which allows teachers to monitor how students are performing, with details on average grades, on-time homework hand in, average return time and conversation activity for their class over time.

Aware of the security issues plaguing Zoom, Microsoft has made a point to publicise the privacy credentials of Teams.

Blog posts detail of the way it handles user data, stating: "Far from an afterthought, privacy is deeply ingrained in our company philosophy and how we build products."

Teams is free for anyone with an Office 365 subscription but a free version is also available, making it perhaps the best business alternative to Zoom.

Download Microsoft Teams now

Skype

This was many people's first introduction to online video chats. After launching in the early 2000s, the platform became so ubiquitous that it reached the rarefied status – alongside the likes of Google and Xerox – of its name being used as a verb.

It held a near-monopoly over video calls for more than a decade, and if a similar pandemic had struck 10 years ago it would have surely been the app of choice.

It began in the early 2000s and was, for more people, their first introduction into video callingREUTERS/Denis Balibouse
It began in the early 2000s and was, for more people, their first introduction into video callingREUTERS/Denis Balibouse

But since it was acquired by Microsoft in 2011, Skype's utility and reliability have slipped behind emerging competitors. The issues stem from the tech giant's decision to transition from a peer-to-peer (P2P) service to a cloud-based operation, which ended up being messy and frustrating and caused users to seek alternatives.

Microsoft has also shifted its focus to its Teams conferencing app in recent years, but for basic video calls and group chats, Skype remains a solid and familiar option.

Download Skype now

HouseParty

HouseParty has quickly become the go-to video chat app for people looking to play games and have fun with friends and family remotely.

It's free and simple to use and offers a huge selection of interactive games that are great to play in pairs or groups, ranging from trivia to charades.

Its sudden surge in popularity has presented a different set of challenges compared to Zoom, with its open and inclusive features resulting in a chaotic and confusing experience for users who are just looking to chat and play with friends without being bombarded with new members.

Fiddling with the app's settings can remedy most of these issues, while hidden features like "sneak in" allows you to open the app without all of your contacts being notified.

Download HouseParty now

Signal

Whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden is one of the many high-profile figures who rely on Signal to communicate securely online.

Widely considered to be the most private messaging app, Signal also allows encrypted video chats using its open source Signal Protocol technology.

There are some limitations that mean it hasn't achieved the level of mainstream success as its peers – mostly that it does not support group video calls.

Despite the added layers of security, Signal remains simple to use and is available for free on Android and iOS. Desktop devices do not currently support video calls on Signal.

Download Signal now

WhatsApp

With more than 2 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the world.

In 2018 the Facebook-owned app introduced group video calling for free to all of its users, making it arguably the most convenient option for people just looking to chat with friends and family.

With more than 2 billion users, it is the most popular messaging appREUTERS/Dado Ruvic
With more than 2 billion users, it is the most popular messaging appREUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Similar to its messaging function, WhatsApp's video calls are encrypted, however the downside is that only eight people can take part in an encrypted video chat at any one time.

There are several useful features included in WhatsApp's video chat function, such as adding people mid-call and hiding your video feed from other participants.

Download WhatsApp now

Stuck for ideas on how to socialise in lockdown? We found the best games to play with friends over video calling apps

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