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);
- 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.
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.
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“.