Video Conferencing Apps: Choice Overload

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Like most companies during lockdown we’ve transitioned to 100% remote working. As a software company it’s been relatively straightforward for us to migrate to the virtual world, with one exception: video conferencing.

We had assumed that since video conferencing has been around for a long time, there would be an obvious choice for us to adopt. We were wrong. After dissatisfaction with our first few meetings, we did the only sensible thing—trial as many video conferencing apps as we could, and it turns out there are a lot.

Our requirements were fairly simple…

  • Call quality (video & audio)
  • Screensharing
  • Easy access (web-based, no sign-up, ideally with dial-in capabilities in case of internet connection issues)
  • Secure
  • Lightweight (quick to setup and not cluttered with unnecessary features)

… but the process took longer than expected, a good couple of days researching and testing. In the end we found some excellent options, but let’s address the main players that we avoided first.

Zoom

❌ Secure
❌ Easy access
❌ Lightweight

Zoom is the default video conferencing tool and it’s no wonder. It’s easy to use, reliable, and has a bunch of fun features (virtual backgrounds almost became our 6th requirement…). But they have a long history of security flaws, privacy issues, dark patterns, questionable features, and misleading statements about encryption, so we ruled them out.

GoToMeeting

❌ Lightweight

GoToMeeting is a respectable option, but in our experience has been a bit unreliable and resource intensive. As well as looking a little outdated, we also didn’t like being pushed to use the desktop client.

BlueJeans

❌ Lightweight

Similar to GoToMeeting, BlueJeans isn’t terrible, just another heavyweight app that is very keen for you to use their desktop client.

Skype

❌ Call quality
❌ Easy access

We encountered more problems than anticipated when trying to use Skype, mostly around conflicts between Skype vs. Skype for Business accounts. And when we were able to connect, the call quality wasn’t great.

Microsoft Teams

❌ Easy access
❌ Lightweight

Microsoft Teams is cumbersome and unintuitive, full of admin and features that we would never use—we only want the video calls! And it’s a whole lot of effort for everyone involved to integrate an external user for that reason alone.

Cisco WebEx

❌ Easy access
❌ Lightweight

Cisco WebEx falls into the same category for us as Microsoft Teams. If the organisation is already heavily embedded in the vendor’s ecosystem, perhaps it’s worth using existing licenses as much as possible. For us however it’s another heavy app with too much overhead.

Google Meet

✔️ Lightweight
❌ Easy access

Despite being a significant improvement over Hangouts, Google Meet is still somewhat disappointing. It gets straight to the point with an easy-to-share URL for a browser-based video call with minimal feature clutter (the audio transcription feature is a nice touch). Sadly it requires Google accounts to access, making this unsuitable for general use.

Slack

✔️ Call quality
✔️ Screensharing
❌ Easy access

As well as being a great home for custom emojis and witty GIFs, we’ve found Slack‘s collaborative tools to be rather good too. Unfortunately it’s a bit expensive and, similar to Microsoft Teams, not straightforward for external users to jump into a call.

Discord

✔️ Call quality (audio)
❌ Easy access
❌ Lightweight

Primarily targeted at gamers, Discord has high quality audio that’s reliable and low-latency. The downside (other than the relentless quirkiness) is that it’s a chunky app that expects users to have an account.

Screen · Jami · Highfive · Lifesize · ClickMeeting · Cyberlink U · BigBlueButton

By now we had stopped looking at tools that required user registration or a client to be downloaded as they are obvious barriers to quickly including guest users. If that wasn’t an issue we would have looked further into Screen (targeting developers with remote pair programming and debugging) and Jami (distributed, secure, and open source).

Once we had sifted out the usual suspects we finally found some exceptional video conferencing apps perfectly suited to our needs.

The runners up:

Talky

✔️ Easy access
✔️ Lightweight

Talky does a great job of getting directly to the video chat. Nothing to download and install, no account needed, and it’s free. The only limitation is that it supports up to 6 people, not enough for Team Firefinch let alone customers. Talky also gets a special mention for the addictive time-killing lander game you can play while you wait for other users to join.

RemoteHQ

✔️ Screensharing
✔️ Easy access
✔️ Lightweight

Billed as a “collaboration hub”, RemoteHQ has a few more features than we were looking for. That said, it’s an enticing set of well-made features: whiteboard, shared browser, audio recordings and transcriptions. Definitely worth a look when voice chat is not quite enough.

Whereby

✔️ Call quality
✔️ Screensharing
✔️ Easy access
✔️ Lightweight

Whereby does everything right. It’s web-based, guest-friendly, and facilitates video meetings with fantastic call quality and no redundant features. And for that extra dash of professionalism you can brand the online rooms with custom logos and backgrounds. There’s nothing bad we have to say about it, yet it came a very close second to…

The winner:

Jitsi Meet

✔️ Call quality
✔️ Screensharing
✔️ Easy access
✔️ Secure
✔️ Lightweight

As soon as we used Jitsi Meet we knew it was a serious contender. It ticked all our requirements immediately: browser-based, URL access to meetings, no user accounts, very lightweight, simple screensharing, and great call quality. But wait, there’s more: custom URLs, dial-in capability, unlimited(-ish) participants, open source, secure, and free.

For these reasons, Firefinch have been using Jitsi Meet for all internal meetings and discussions for the past few weeks without issue and we’ve been suggesting it to friends, family, and customers who are overwhelmed by choice. We happily recommend Jitsi without hesitation!