How to Pick the Best Video Conferencing Service for Your Business

Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom are the three best options. But which one is is my top pick?

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BY John Brandon - 27 Jul 2016

Immediate, reliable, easy to use, and free.

Those are the criteria you might use to select a video-conferencing app for your company. Yet, it's often not that simple. Free sometimes means unreliable. Immediate can mean there are not any powerful features (which is why the app runs in a browser and doesn't have any extra software to download).

You want to standardize on something, of course. If you change which video-conferencing app you use, your employees won't know what to do.

How do you even pick one? For the past few years, three major apps have emerged that seem to pop up more often. There's a reason they work so well. Yet, each one has a slightly different feature set, pricing options, and usefulness in business.

1. Google Hangouts

One of the main reasons to consider Hangouts is that it's totally free. All you need is a Gmail account (which is a problem if some participants only have work emails) to join. On Android, Hangouts is pre-installed and ready to go.

However, there's a bit of a catch. Google is working on a new messaging app called Allo and I've seen some rumors that Hangouts might be replaced eventually. Also, Hangouts works best if you live in a Google world. If you use Microsoft products like Outlook or Word, it's not as tightly integrated.

Another ding: Dell and Asus used to make a product for Hangouts called Chromebox for Meetings but they don't seem to be available anymore. The idea was to have a standalone computer that only worked for video-conferencing and included the camera and microphone. It's a sign that people were not exactly snapping up these products and interest might be waning. Indeed, in my tests, few participants had Hangouts installed, especially on an iPhone. Some didn't know what it was.

Another plus in the Google Hangouts column: The app does work exceptionally well for screen-sharing and remote demos. In my tests, no one had any glitches. Hangouts is also part of Google Apps for Work, which is like running IT in the cloud with email and productivity apps for a team, but costs $5 per user per month.

2. Skype

Skype is another well-known option, but you do have to consider some of the pitfalls. Well, one big pitfall: There are many different versions with different pricing schemes. The free Skype client is fairly obvious to find and use, although there's one that runs in Windows 10 on the desktop and one that runs as a touch app. There's also one for iPad and Android. Skype runs best as a desktop app for now, although they do offer a version that runs on the web.

For business, there's an app that runs within Microsoft Office online, one called Skype for Business that's being replaced by Skype Meetings. It's confusing to the participants to know which is which. If you include international callers on your video chat, things get more complex--and you'll typically pay fees such as a per minute charge.

In my tests, Skype led to some confusion because of versions and features. In my meetings with multiple parties, I discovered that one person was using the Skype for Business client, another had an older version on an iPad, and someone else wanted to dial-in by phone only. Making all of those connections can be a pain. Then there are the quality issues. Not every Skype video-conference ran smoothly.

While Skype for Business is more powerful and offers features like 24x7 support, integration with other Microsoft apps, polling, and even PBX support, it costs $7.70 per user per month. For chats with a small group of people who already use Skype, everything worked fine. It' s not the best option if you're meeting is with people who are not all Skype users or who need to dial-in from a standard phone line.

3. Zoom

More and more small businesses are using Zoom, and I know exactly why that is: The app is designed for ad hoc meetings. When you want to do a video chat, you just want everything to work. It should be as simple as picking up the phone and calling someone. And, there should be one basic app for everyone.

In my tests, Zoom detected my computer or tablet perfectly. In one call from a new laptop, Zoom downloaded, installed itself, and then quickly popped me into the chat. In another, it detected I was on a desktop without a built-in webcam and showed me the phone dial-in. During several video-conferencing calls, the app worked smoothly. It detected who was speaking and switched to that person's face automatically. It's crazy how the free version of Zoom is so robust. If you want to add dial-ins, a meeting dashboard, a meeting room link, and other features, the Pro version costs $14.99 per month per host, which is still a good deal for most companies.

The only ding against Zoom is that your clients, investors, or customers might not already use it or know about. Skype is more popular. It means it could take a bit more time to install the app and get things working, but in my experience, it's seamless.

Otherwise, Zoom is my top pick for the low cost, ease-of-use, and features.


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