What is it best for? Talking to a big group of friends. It feels more intimate than FaceTime but less professionally oriented than Zoom, which makes it perfect for going round-robin with the people you’d usually catch up with at the bar. Plus, your friends are more likely to already have Gmail accounts than they are to be convinced into downloading Zoom.
How does it work? All you need is a Gmail account, which, like a no-frills Zoom plan, is free. From there, just send an invite to whoever it is you want to talk to. HD is an option, if it’s been too long since you’ve seen your squad’s faces close-up.
How many people can be on it at a time? 25 people can share a Google Hangout, which makes it as close as we have to a “party app.” (Cursed phrase, I know.)
What is it best for? Talking to family. The technology-shy, who might find additional apps a bit overwhelming, can still get in on a FaceTime; all they have to do is press “accept” when you call.
How does it work? You and your fellow FaceTimers will each need iPhones or Mac computers of some incarnation; if you have those, FaceTime is already built in. Newer-model iPhones can add effects like filters and emojis to their conversations, which is sure to delight younger family members. (Trust me, if you’ve never FaceTimed a three-year-old with an emoji of a giraffe next to you, you’re in for a treat.)
How many people can be on it at a time? You can FaceTime up to 32 people at once, but imagine that many people popping up on your phone screen! Absolute chaos. Stick to using it for those isolation-busting calls to mom and dad.
What is it best for? Talking to loved ones overseas.
How does it work? WhatsApp uses the internet to connect you to anyone in your phone contacts who also has it, and due to the fact that it can connect international calls for free with WiFi, it’s a great option for people stuck far from each other as travel bans go into effect.
How many people can be on it at a time? WhatsApp Group Calling allows up to four people to video call with each other at once.
What is it best for? Hanging out virtually with smaller groups.
How does it work? This “face-to-face social network” is an app that can be downloaded on iOS, Android, and macOS. You just download it, sync your phone contacts, and swipe up to see your friends who are also on Houseparty.
How many people can be on it at a time? Eight, which is about how many people you’d want to invite to an intimate dinner party. In that spirit, why not all cook the same thing remotely, sit down together, and discuss anything but COVID-19?