Christmas and New Year is the most popular time for friends and family to get together, but COVID-19 is disrupting plans for a second year in a row. The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly around the world, leading many people to cancel or scale back in-person gatherings.
If you’re not able to meet some family members or friends this holiday season, video calling is the best alternative. Some services limit you to 40 or 60 minutes, but there are plenty of ways to have unlimited video calls throughout the Christmas period and beyond.
Without further ado, here are your main options.
If you’re planning to have an extended call with 3 or more participants, Google Duo is your best bet. It supports up to 32 people for as long as you like – you'll just need to sign in with a Google account. It’s available directly on the website, but also on iOS, Android and via any Google smart speaker with a display.
Most people have forgotten about Skype these days, but it remains a great option for group calls. Up to 50 people can join for an unlimited time, and it’s completely free to sign up. Apps are available for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android.
If everyone you’re calling uses an Apple device, this is the best option. Apple finally added group video call support to FaceTime in 2018, and you can now have up to 32 participants on a call. The app comes pre-installed on any new iPhone, iPad or Mac, while you can even join with audio via the Apple Watch.
Apple added the ability for Android and Windows devices to join FaceTime calls via web links in 2021, but an Apple user will still need to send out the invite. It also feels clunky compared to the two services above, which are optimised for use across multiple platforms.
Zoom is one of the most high-profile services to impose a limit, but it only applies for calls with 3 or more participants. One-on-one calls are completely free for up to 30 hours.
Even for premium meetings, it’s only the host that needs to subscribe. Of course, there's also a way to get around the Zoom 40-minute limit, but it’s not perfect.
Like Zoom, Google Meet only imposes a 60-minute limit on meetings with 3 or more participants. If it’s just you and one other person, you can keep going for up to 24 hours. Again, anyone with a Google account can create or join meetings.
Teams is traditionally focused on business users, but Microsoft launched a version for personal use in 2021. The limits here are similar – 60 minutes for calls with 3 to 300 participants, but 24 hours free for 1:1 calls.
Instant messaging apps
Apps such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat all have video calling functionality within the mobile apps. WhatsApp Web and a desktop Messenger app means they work on desktop too, but it’s not the most optimised experience.
As you can see, it’s easy to video call friends and family with no limitations, completely free of charge. You’re spoilt for choice with 1:1 calls, but there are also plenty of options if you have more participants.