Road-Testing 4 Free Videoconferencing Platforms

When I tried out four popular, free videoconferencing services, there was one clear winner.

You may be used to planning virtual meetings for hundreds of attendees, but what about all those meetings leading up to the big one? Videoconferencing is killing off the traditional dial-in conference call because it allows you to share your screen and swap files with colleagues and vendors while you talk.

Here’s a look at how four services – AnyMeeting, Google Hangouts, Join.Me, and Skype – stack up.

 

Participants

Text chat

Number of meetings

Screensharing

File sharing

AnyMeeting

 

4 free (30 with $18/mo. plan)

Yes

Unlimited

Yes

No

Google Hangouts

 

10

Yes

Unlimited

Yes

Yes

Join.Me

5 free (50 with $20/mo. plan)                                                                       

Yes

Unspecified limit

Yes

No

Skype

Yes

Unlimited

Yes

Yes

AnyMeeting

Good for screensharing

any meeting 2

AnyMeeting is gradually supplanting GoToMeeting in the business world, and its attractive interface is vastly superior to that clunky old classic. AnyMeeting had the best screen-sharing of the four services I tried, but its audio and video quality was comparatively poor.

Signing up for AnyMeeting is quick and easy, but you – and your participants – must download an app to use it. Attendees can call in from their mobile phones or connect using FaceTime on an iOS device.

AnyMeeting’s free plan is fairly limited. You can host meetings for only four people, and there’s no file sharing or international call-in number. An $18 per month subscription gets you 30-person meetings, custom meeting branding and presentation sharing, and both international call-in and a toll-free U.S. phone number for 6 cents per minute.

AnyMeeting is great if one person will be presenting content from their desktop, but less than ideal for a virtual discussion. The four-participant limit is a serious drawback.

Hangouts

Best all-around platform

hangouts

Hangouts, Google’s always-free video-calling platform, just got a makeover. The platform’s sleek new interface lets anyone with a Gmail account start a video call with one click within Hangouts, or directly from Gmail. Up to 10 users can participate in each videoconference, and the audio and video quality is excellent. (It’s also worth mentioning that Hangouts is the videoconferencing service of choice for Convene team meetings.)

Hangouts’ defects are relatively minor compared to the competition. There can be a lag when someone begins to share their screen, and oftentimes the other participants need to mute themselves so the presenter can keep their screen front and center. Another hitch is that a decent proportion of professionals use their Gmail addresses for personal email rather than business, so initiating a meeting with a business associate will first require connecting on Google.

Hangouts is unique among the platforms we tested in that participants never have to download anything if they don’t want to. It also lets you include more people than any of the other services we tested.

Join.Me

Perfect for minimalists

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 2.04.53 PM

Like AnyMeeting, relative newcomer Join.Me is best for meetings where one person will be doing most of the talking or sharing their screen. Up to five people can participate in each video call.

To use Join.Me, callers need to download the Join.Me app, which is available on Mac and PC as well as on iOS, Android, Windows, and Kindle Fire devices. Join.Me’s audio and video quality is pretty good, and the app has an attractive, intuitive interface. But beauty isn’t everything. Paid plans start at $20/month – and you’ll probably need one.

Join.Me didn’t fare too well compared to the other three platforms we tried. The most serious flaw in the free plan is not being able to schedule meetings in advance. Join.Me also charges a premium for an international conference line and serves up ads to meeting participants.

Skype

Reliable…but time-consuming

skype

Skype, a tried-and-true instant-message and video-calling platform, has only recently added group video calls to its arsenal. Skype offers good video and audio quality as well as screen- and file-sharing for up to five users. After installing the Skype app, participants can call in or connect from any mobile device, but, as with Hangouts, they must be added as contacts in advance of the meeting.

The process of initiating a video call in Skype is downright confusing. Unless you use the separate program Skype Manager, you must first add every meeting participant as a contact. If you’re having a meeting with coworkers, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re connecting with vendors, partners, or clients, it could end up feeling like a lot of work to have a simple meeting.

Kate Mulcrone

Kate Mulcrone is digital editor of Convene.

  • Gabe

    Great comparison, though you’ve missed ClickMeeting!