The vicissitudes of social distancing have taken many people by surprise, making video calls a new necessity for distant socializing. But which of the two-dozen apps out there should you and your (perhaps not as tech-savvy) friends and family use? Here are our recommendations, whether it’s for a coffee meeting, a family get-together or a late-night gaming hangout.
This list is for individuals looking for a free solution to easily connect with others, not for small businesses or enterprises. The focus here is on ease of use and features that make it attractive to ordinary people. Every app is free and cross-platform, meaning iOS and Android at least, with many supporting Macs and Windows machines as well.
For big groups
Skype (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux, web)
Pros: Many simultaneous callers
Cons: Tries too hard to do other things
Skype has been around for a long time, and while its desktop app is pretty weak, the mobile version is solid and it supports big groups with no real time limit (four hours per call, 100 hours per month), for free. As long as you focus on just the video calls, it’s great, but Skype’s emoji reactions, status updates and other cruft are best avoided.
Zoom (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows)
Zoom is one of the most popular business video conference apps out there due to its reliability, solid web integration and other features. Originally it was listed here as a good general-purpose option due to those pluses, but reports have multiplied that the software uses poor security standards and other shady practices which the company has deliberately misrepresented. We recommend against using Zoom for any call in which sensitive information may be discussed. In fact, with so many other perfectly good options available, it’s hard to recommend using it at all.
For friends and family
FB Messenger (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows)
Pros: Easy to use, many people already on it, some handy group features
Cons: Facebook account required
Messenger is a popular app for good reason — it works well for pretty much every kind of digital communication you might want to do with your friends. It supports up to eight people in free video calls with no duration limit, and when you are doing a two-person call it switches to a peer-to-peer structure, skipping servers and potentially avoiding congestion. Of course, it’s also a Facebook product, meaning you’ll need an account there — not something everyone is into. But Messenger use is considerably better protected from Facebook snooping than posts and images on the main site.
WhatsApp Messenger (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, web)
Pros: Secure, popular
Cons: Only four people per video call
Think of WhatsApp as FB Messenger’s nerdier, less-good-looking sibling. With a focus on privacy, WhatsApp is popular around the world despite being super ugly, and while video calls aren’t its main feature, they are possible if you don’t mind a four-person limit. To activate it, start a group chat and then hit the call button at the top right and select the participants, then hit the camera.
Google Duo or Hangouts (iOS, Android, web)
Pros: Simple interface, uses existing Google account
Cons: Confusing platform issues, Duo may not be long for this world
Duo is one of Google’s later messaging products, started as a complement to Allo and meant to be sort of the consumer version of Hangouts, which is being split into Chat and Meet, but still exists on its own. Confused? So is Google. But the apps work pretty well for now, plugging into your existing Google contacts and accounts and letting you do straightforward, unlimited video calls. If your friends don’t want to sign up for a new account anywhere, this is a good option — just don’t get attached, as unpopular Google products don’t tend to live for long.
Marco Polo (iOS, Android)
Pros: Video messaging is a fun alternative to live chats
Cons: No live chat option
This isn’t a video chat app per se, but the fact is not everyone really wants to do a full-on live face-to-face video all the time. Marco Polo is like a streamlined Snapchat, sending short videos to friends or groups with the option to add doodles, filters and so on. If you and your friends are finding it hard to set aside half an hour to talk live, this can be a good alternative.
Honorable mentions: FaceTime, Instagram
FaceTime is great, but it’s not cross-platform, considerably limiting its usefulness. But if your friends do happen to have Apple products, it’s a great, simple, and secure option. Instagram has video calling built into direct messages, which is nice for quick calls with people you aren’t sure you want to bring into a smaller circle of connectivity.
For having fun together
Houseparty (iOS, Android, web)
Pros: Simple drop-in, drop-out group chat, built-in games
Cons: Basically a trojan horse for Heads Up, sudden popularity has affected video quality
Houseparty established its brand as the app teens were using to chat with groups of friends without leaving the house. Pundits disapproved, but as usual, the kids get the last laugh. Houseparty is nice for a group of close friends, alerting you when someone’s available and letting people easily join in the chat with minimal fuss. The built in games are also fun, but you’ll have to pony up for Heads Up decks. The Pictionary clone is fun, but desperately needs better words.
Discord (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux, web)
Pros: Great for voice chat while gaming or simple occasional video chat
Cons: Occasionally confusing interface, not video-focused
Discord is the de facto champion for gaming-related communications, taking the place of many in-game chat interfaces and even schooling industry heavyweights like Steam. While it’s mainly focused on audio and does that well, video is an option too. Less savvy users may also find its interface confusing, with multiple tabs, groups and channels.
Honorable mention: Bunch, Squad
A newer app, Bunch, is focused on group games while in video chat. This can be hit or miss and you can expect in-app purchases from some of the games, but the platform has understandably seen a lot of engagement since all this started, so there’s no better opportunity to give it a shot.
Squad is focused on sharing what you’re doing on your phone while chatting — so you can Tinder together, watch videos, etc. Like Bunch, it’s still new, so you’ll have to get your friends to sign up, but it’s a nice way to share what you’re scrolling (or swiping) through.
Why I Ditched Microsoft Excel for Google Sheets (And Why You Should Too!)
Hey there, fellow spreadsheet enthusiasts! Today, I want to share my journey from being a die-hard Microsoft Excel fan to becoming a Google Sheets official nerd. Believe me, it wasn’t an easy decision, but after experiencing the wonders of Google Sheets, there’s no turning back.
I’ve done so many other tech reviews, it just felt right to do one on Microsoft Excel vs. Google Sheets. So, grab your virtual seat, and let’s dive into why you need to stop using Microsoft Excel and start embracing the awesomeness of Google Sheets.
Excel, We Had a Good Run…
I’ve had a long and fruitful relationship with Microsoft Excel. We’ve tackled countless budgets, analyzed heaps of data, and even played the occasional game of spreadsheet Sudoku (admit it, we’ve all been there). But as the years rolled on, it became evident that Excel had its limitations, and it was time for a change.
The Love-Hate Relationship with Excel
Don’t get me wrong; Excel is a powerhouse when it comes to crunching numbers and performing basic calculations. It’s like that trusty old calculator you had in high school. However, when things get complex, Excel can feel like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded – frustrating and time-consuming.
Why I Fell Out of Love with Excel:
- Collaboration Nightmares: Ever tried collaborating with multiple people on an Excel file? It’s like trying to play a symphony with a broken piano. Google Sheets, on the other hand, offers real-time collaboration. It’s like having a jam session where everyone is in sync.
- Formula Frustration: Excel’s formulas are like a secret society’s code. Nested IF statements? Array formulas? It’s a maze. Google Sheets simplifies this with a user-friendly formula bar that guides you, making complex calculations less intimidating.
- Data Size Drama: Excel has its limits, and sooner or later, you’ll bump into them. Large datasets can bring Excel to its knees. Google Sheets handles big data gracefully, giving you the freedom to analyze without constraints.
- Dated Data Visualization: Creating charts and graphs in Excel is like painting with finger paints. Google Sheets offers sleek, modern data visualization options that can turn your data into works of art.
- Mobile Accessibility: In a world where we’re always on the move, Excel’s mobile app falls short. Google Sheets’ mobile app is user-friendly and lets you access your spreadsheets from anywhere, anytime.
- Automatic Backup: Excel doesn’t automatically save your work, and one wrong click can erase hours of effort. Google Sheets automatically saves your changes, so you can breathe easy knowing your work is secure.
- Free or Affordable: Let’s talk money. Excel can be pricey, especially if you need advanced features. Google Sheets offers a free version and affordable subscription options that won’t break the bank.
- Data Security: Sharing sensitive information via Excel can be risky. Google Sheets provides secure, permission-based sharing, ensuring your data stays safe and sound.
Why I Fell in Love with Google Sheets:
Now that you know why I had to part ways with Excel, let me tell you why Google Sheets became my new spreadsheet crush:
- Seamless Collaboration: Real-time collaboration is a game-changer. With Google Sheets, my team and I can work on the same spreadsheet simultaneously, leaving version control issues in the past.
- User-Friendly Formulas: Google Sheets’ formula bar guides you through creating complex formulas, making even the trickiest calculations manageable.
- Data Freedom: The freedom to work with large datasets without worry is liberating. No more hitting Excel’s limits and sacrificing data.
- Modern Data Visualization: Visualizing data has never been easier. Google Sheets offers sleek chart options that help convey insights effectively.
- Mobile Magic: Google Sheets’ mobile app keeps me productive on the go. I can access and edit my spreadsheets from my smartphone or tablet without a hitch.
- Automatic Peace of Mind: Knowing that Google Sheets saves my work automatically is a weight off my shoulders. No more “did I save that?” moments.
- Budget-Friendly: Google Sheets’ free version has impressive features, and their paid plans are affordable, making it accessible to all budgets.
- Top-Notch Security: Secure sharing options ensure my data remains confidential, granting access only to those who need it.
Breaking up with Microsoft Excel wasn’t easy, but transitioning to Google Sheets was one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s more than just a spreadsheet tool; it’s a game-changer for productivity, collaboration, and data analysis. So, my fellow spreadsheet fanatics, it’s time to make the switch. Embrace the future with Google Sheets, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Trust me; your spreadsheets will thank you!
How safe is my data after a hack or leak?
The UK’s elections watchdog revealed on Tuesday it had been the victim of a “complex cyber-attack” potentially affecting millions of voters.
It also emerged personal details of police officers in Northern Ireland were published accidentally.
But what can you do if you are concerned your data may have been leaked, and how can you prevent issues?
How safe is my data?
Generally, when public organisations such as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) respond to Freedom of Information requests they should remove any identifying data.
But in this case the force published confidential details by accident, leaving some officers and their families with concerns about their safety.
However, an average person affected by a data leak or hack should not panic.
Regarding the cyber-attack affecting UK voters, the Electoral Commission has apologised to those affected but says on its website the data it holds is “limited, and much of it is already in the public domain”.
“According to the risk assessment used by the Information Commissioner’s Office [the data regulator] to assess the harm of data breaches, the personal data held on electoral registers, typically name and address, does not in itself present a high risk to individuals,” it says.
This information could be combined with other bits of data about you, such as what you share on social media, to identify you – but this takes a lot of time and cyber criminals will generally only target prominent individuals like this.
And unless you have opted out of being named on the open electoral register, much of this information will already be publicly available online.
If you are concerned about a different data breach, and are worried your information may have been lost, there are also websites which will tell you if your email was part of a known data breach.
The Electoral Commission specifically recommends people use the free online service Have I Been Pwned (sic) to check this.
What can I do to keep my data safe?
If you believe your password to an account may have been compromised, it makes sense to change it.
But you should be mindful not to respond to any emails recommending this, as they could be attempting to scam you – instead you should visit the website as normal, and change your password there.
This is also why it is important to have different passwords for different accounts.
By always keeping different log-in credentials, a future hack is less likely to affect you seriously as the hackers will not be able to use your data beyond accessing a single service you used.
Another thing people can do is to remain vigilant online to avoid any data loss.
Recent research from Barclays released on Wednesday shows that 87% of all scams take place on tech platforms, such as dating apps, social media and online marketplaces.
It says these scams are on the rise, and it wants tech platforms to shoulder some of the liability.
“Without the joint help of tech organisations, the Government, and regulators, we risk enabling the unchecked growth of what is now the most common crime in the UK, hurting countless individuals, and costing our economy billions each year,” says Barclays CEO Matt Hammerstein.
“Our data shows that tech platforms – particularly social media – are now the source of almost all scams. However, there is no current legislative or regulatory framework obliging the tech sector to support the prevention of these crimes, as there rightly is for banks.”
But there are a few simple steps you can take to stay safe online, which can help protect your data – and your wallet.
These include using a strong password for each site you visit, avoiding emails from people you do not know, and being careful when visiting unfamiliar websites.
The Rising Importance of Managed IT Services with Proficiency in Apple Devices for Today’s Business Landscape
In the rapidly evolving world of business technology, there’s an undeniably prominent shift toward Apple devices. Their sleek designs, unparalleled security features, and user-friendly interfaces have made them a favored choice among business professionals. Yet, the challenge remains: how do businesses ensure they’re tapping into the full potential of these devices while ensuring security, efficiency, and smooth integration into existing systems? Enter managed IT services companies, particularly those that are Apple aficionados.
If you’re a business owner or decision-maker, you’ve likely encountered the classic dilemma: hiring in-house IT specialists or outsourcing. With the increasing reliance on Apple devices in modern businesses, it’s not just about finding IT support but the right IT support.
Apple’s ecosystem is unique. It’s not merely about devices but also the secure, interconnected universe they create. An iPhone syncs seamlessly with a MacBook or an iPad, leading to an integrated working experience. However, with this high level of sophistication comes the necessity for specialized knowledge.
“You wouldn’t hire a general handyman to fix a specific issue with your car. Similarly, hiring general IT support might not do the trick for businesses that rely on Apple devices. They need specialists,” points out Aaron Kane of Machero in Chicago.
The Perks of Outsourcing to Apple-Savvy Managed IT Services
The advantage of partnering with a managed IT service familiar with Apple’s world is multi-fold. They bring a deep understanding of Apple’s operating systems, know the best practices for integration, and can troubleshoot issues specific to Apple products. This expertise is often hard to find in generic IT teams.
Furthermore, such companies can help businesses deploy Apple devices in a way that they’re used to their maximum potential. They understand the nuances of iOS, macOS, and other Apple-specific software and can guide businesses in deploying tools and applications best suited to their needs.
Ed Anderson of Dyrand Systems in Vancouver (Visit their website) echoes this sentiment. “Modern business operations demand agility. And in a landscape dominated by Apple devices, you need IT support that speaks Apple’s language fluently. Outsourcing to managed IT services that are Apple specialists is more than a trend; it’s a strategic move.”
The Security Element
Security is one of Apple’s hallmarks. Yet, the best hardware and software security features can be undermined if not handled appropriately. Regular updates, patches, and knowledge of potential threats specific to Apple’s ecosystem are crucial.
Jorge Rojas with Tektonic Managed Services emphasizes the security component. “When we talk about Apple devices, we’re looking at a different kind of architecture, both in hardware and software. The threats these devices face, while fewer than others, are unique. A managed IT service team that is well-versed in Apple’s realm is your best bet against potential cyber threats.”
Today’s business world isn’t just about adopting the best technology and understanding and integrating it seamlessly into one’s operations. With their growing popularity in the corporate world, Apple devices come with their own demands and intricacies. While these devices offer many advantages, leveraging them requires specific skills and expertise.
The choice is clear for businesses keen on not just surviving but thriving in today’s tech-centric environment. Partner with a managed IT service that knows Apple inside out. It’s an investment that promises smooth operations and a competitive edge in a landscape where technology is the game-changer.
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