Best Video Call Technology

By: tel-editors. Updated: June 29, 2020.

Now that we are all "sheltering in place", finding ways to interact virtually with people from our homes has rocketed up people's priority list.

We have had quite a few emails now from people wanting to know the best way to have video calls with their family and friends. Here are some thoughts to help answer that question.

Feel free to add your comments, and share your experiences below.

 

Who This Post is For

This post is for older adults who were not regular users of video call technology before, and now want to try it. And for family members of such a person wondering how to introduce their parent to virtual interactions

 

The Video Calling Landscape

Video Calling has been a staple of decentralized companies for some time, and there are many video calling and video conferencing platforms that exist. They all "work" pretty well, but the big difference between them is in how easy they are to use, and what equipment you need to use them.

For "newbies" we only recommend three platforms, each of which has strengths for different people. The three we recommend are:

  • Facetime (an Apple service);
  • Zoom;
  • Echo Show (an Amazon product).

Many people also use Skype, and there is nothing at all wrong with that. However we think the three above are a bit easier to use. But if someone wants to Skype you, that is also a good option.

NOTE: We have no financial relationship with any of the companies mentioned in this post (other than being part of the Amazon Affiliate program).

 

Which Technology for You?

The decision has a lot to do with these factors:

  • how tech-savvy you are;
  • whether it is for a one-on-one call or a group call;
  • what products you already own.

 

Most Powerful and Flexible: Zoom.

The Internet is full at present of people recommending "Zoom" video calls. We think this is an excellent service, and have been using it for business purposes for years.

Pluses: Zoom works well for one-on-one calls, as well as group calls. It is relatively easy to use. And it works on pretty much any platform, so you can use it on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. And if you arrange a group call, people participating can join on video if they wish, but can also use a regular old phone to just call in (voice only of course).

Minuses: We do think Zoom requires a bit more technical savvy-ness than the other solutions, however.

What you need: If you want to participate in a video call, you need a camera and a microphone and a speaker, connected to a computer or smartphone. Smartphones already include all these things, as do many laptops and some desktop computers.  

Learn More: See various video tutorials on the Zoom website.

 

Good if You Use Apple Already: Facetime

Facetime is a service that comes automatically on Apple products, that lets you make video calls very easily from one Apple device to another.

Pluses: We think it is even easier to use than Zoom. So if you and the people you want to talk to are already in the Apple Universe, this is a great choice.

Minuses: It is limited to Apple products, so if you want to video people outside the Apple Universe, this is not a good choice. We have used it a lot for one-on-one calls. We just discovered it also has a capability for group calls. But we have not tried them out, and are not sure how easy they are to use or how well they work. Maybe someone will add their experiences by comments below?

What you need: Facetime uses the camera and speakers that are already in your iPhone or Apple computer. 

Learn More: See Apple's guide to using Facetime and to group chat on Facetime.

 

Best for the "Tech-averse": Amazon Echo Show

While we think the services above are pretty simple to use, and many of the older adults in the Tech-enhanced Life community use them, we have found that some people are having a hard time learning how to use them.

For those who are really "tech-averse", or just have a hard time learning new things, a product we explored last year — called the Amazon Echo Show — might be exactly what you need.

Pluses: The Echo Show is a self contained piece of hardware, with an artifical intelligence (Alexa) inside. Making a video call is extremely simple. You just say "Call Fred", and so long as it has been set up correctly it makes the video call to "Fred".

Minuses: You need a specific product, the Amazon Echo Show, in the house of the tech-averse person. (The person at the other end of the call can make the video call on a smartphone using the Alexa App, though.) If the tech-averse person you are helping does not yet have an Echo Show, you would need to acquire one (from Amazon).

In addition, setting up the product is fairly straightforward but not something suitable for the "tech-averse" to do alone. So someone else needs to set the product up.

What you need: You need an Echo Show at one end. Others participating in the video call can either also have Echo Shows, or can use a regular Alexa if they only want to talk by voice (no video), or can use the Alexa App on a smartphone.

Learn more: See our exploration of the Amazon Echo Show, and this article about Alexa and Loneliness.

 

Setting up an Echo Show to Send to Your Parent:

Since this article was first published, the Longevity Explorers have had a number of discussions about how exactly you would go about setting up an Echo Show that you could send to your parent — who you are not allowed to visit due to COVID.

Frank Engelman (a retired Intel engineer) has written this very detailed explanation of how to do that:

 

More Options for Virtual Connections

While we think the technology choices above are the right place to start for most people, we have found there is a group of people who feel a need for something "even simpler". This is typically the case where the older adult you are trying to connect to has significant technology "challenges", or perhaps a degree of cognitive impairment.

For people in that situation, we did some additional research into a variety of ways to make "Virtual Connections to the Tech-Challenged".

 

 

 

Comments

 

from Leni (unverified) at May 11, 2020

Has anyone tried the Facebook Portal?
I saw it being used by an 86-year old who still uses a flip phone. She does email in an old computer, has no iPad, but does have (previously unused) WiFi. A relative set the Portal up for her. (I don’t know how complicated that is or how Contact info gets put in.) She didn’t even know what it was when I found it in her kitchen. She thought it was for the grandkids to send photos, but then mentioned that it sometimes rings and she can speak with her great-grandkids and others. I found the name on the frame and looked it up. I am an avid fan of smart speakers (have a Google Home myself), so when I realized all the Portal can do — phone calls, Web access, music, timers/alarms, control lights — and all with voice commands, I was amazed. I also read about privacy concerns, but the camera can be covered when not in use, and I think the smart speaker can be turned off when not in use (which I don’t bother doing on my smart speaker, since I live alone). When my smart speaker “dies,” I will look into Portal for myself. I hope you can confirm that this something good for seniors to know about. Thanks.
P.S. Echo Show seems to be a similar product from Amazon. Their ad says you can call friends “with compatible Echo devices, Alexa app, or Skype.” The Portal requires a FB account for registration and will only place/take calls from other FB members.

 

from Sue Donahue (unverified) at May 05, 2020

Please look at Livindi! I was worried about all these products because they were too hard for my mom to use and I wasn't crazy about the issues of security like people have mentioned. There is a product called Livindi I started using with my mom. I never see it listed anywhere but I cannot recommend this product enough!!! It is a simple tablet that works with an App. It came all set up, all she had to do was plug it in. I put in the numbers of all the people in the family and she can call any of us by touching my picture on the screen. We can call her on the tablet and each other using the App too- can also load family videos so she can watch all my kids. Her Internet connection was spotty too but the tablet uses cellular so we haven't ever had a problem. The website is www.livindi.com. There are also sensors you can get to put in the house for monitoring activity. They're cool, but we haven't used them yet

 

from Kay (unverified) at April 21, 2020

I appreciate receiving and learning from your newsletter.
Since I have an iPhone and one of my sons uses an android, I enjoy using the Alexa app for video calls to him, if I am not near my Echo Show; works the same as Apple FaceTime.
Also, just learned about Guard on the Alexa app, which can be turned on when you leave the house to alert you of any breaking glass or smoke/CO alarm.(Not that we leave the house much.)
Kay

 

from Fred (unverified) at April 18, 2020

Zoom worked fine, but security issues (well publicized and appearing valid) led me to switch to the non-business, free option in the Lifesize.com meeting app. Also works well. I downloaded app; others click on a link in the "invitation" and apparently that leads to temporary cloud connection, which seems to work automatically. Some of my group had trouble, but my hunch is the app was not the issue but aspects of each person's computer. Turning off one's computer and restarting before joining the meeting is a good idea to potentially avoid at least some problems. Lifesize has been in business a long time and has open source coding, which has allowed users to find (inevitable) sources of problems over the years. Not so, I understand about Zoom. Many governments have ordered agencies and personnel to stop using Zoom, according to media reports.

 

from Kathleen Standard (member) at April 12, 2020

I've been using Google Hangouts/Meet for remote learning with my students for the past several years, and it's worked okay, especially if you have a designated call time.  By copying the Invitation link and saving it in a calendar appointment (you can select "Hangouts" for conferencing and paste the link in Comments), you can reuse the same link every time you connect.  Once you get someone to accept the invitation, you can also "call" them if they're logged in and have the computer on.  I've been leaving our laptop open and connected (with a clip over the camera, of course) so they can "call" me if they need help during off hours.  I also use Zoom with younger students, and that's okay, but I'm somewhat concerned about security, so it's not my favorite.

 

from djcoffey (member) at April 11, 2020

We have "happy hours" with friends a few days of the week using Zoom, which has worked well. Some caveats - one of our members lives in a high dollar high rise condo building and her Internet service is The Worst. Lots of lags and interruptions. It's just two people in that condo - and neither of them are heavy Internet users. I suspect it's a service quality issue in their building and they should complain.

Tried Google Hangouts videos with other people - not so easy to invite participants - not sure if it's operator error or a not quite ever finished product.

GoToMeeting also works.

FaceTime over IOS devices is fine, but we like to gather in front of my big screen Mac and I've found FaceTime exhibits annoying behavior coordinating between the Mac and my other IOS devices over the years, hence I've avoided it. Might try again.

About to explore the Echo Show with my 85 year old Mom in another state. She has mild-to-moderate dementia, but I'm hopeful it will work well for her.

Dotty

 

from faengelm (member) at July 06, 2020

Dotty,

You might want to look at this article I wrote for info on setting up the Ech Show for your Mom