Our lives have changed drastically in the wake of COVID-19—millions of people are practicing social distancing and only going outside for necessities in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Bars and restaurants are closed, although many are still doing takeout cocktails and meals. While many of us no longer remember what it feels like to sit across the table from friends, the good news is there are tons of free video conferencing apps you can use to host or attend a virtual happy hour, whether you’re drinking cocktails, mocktails, or water (okay, overachiever!).
Just make sure you have fast and reliable internet so you don’t wind up staring at a frozen or pixelated screen and saying “Wait, what did you say?” on repeat. Talk about a buzzkill. If you aren’t sure who has the best internet plans for your area, you can always use our address lookup tool, which compares dozens of internet providers.
The best free video conferencing apps for virtual happy hour:
- Google Hangouts
- Skype Meet Now
- Cisco Webex
- Group FaceTime
- Facebook Video Chat
The secret to a successful virtual happy hour is extremely fast internet speeds. If you’ve had unsuccessful group video chats due to internet performance, make sure it doesn’t happen again and switch to a high-speed internet plan.
Zoom, which has soared in popularity in the past two months, is super easy to use and intuitive. All you have to do as the host is sign up then send a link to your friends. As a bonus, your friends don’t need to have a Zoom account to attend your virtual hangout—they simply need to click the URL and join the meeting, whether by phone or laptop.
A Zoom meeting can host up to 100 participants, although that sounds more like a bar crawl than happy hour. Prices range from $0/month to $19.99/month—one thing to note is that the free version limits group video meetings to 40 minutes.
That said, Zoom has recently faced some backlash regarding their default settings, which lack sufficient security. Because each Zoom video call uses a randomly-generated ID number to grant people access to the meeting, harassers have been guessing these numbers and entering meetings to broadcast shocking videos or porn to the attendees. If you’re going to go with Zoom, make sure you change your security settings and require a password for all meetings.
Protect your Zoom meetings from hackers (known as Zoom bombing) by requiring a password for meetings and avoiding posting your Zoom link publicly.
Google Hangouts is a free video conferencing app owned by, you guessed it, Google. If everyone in your friend group has a gmail.com email address, then Google Hangouts may be a good option. As many as 150 people can join a Google Hangouts video chat, and you can use it on Apple and Android devices, as well as computers.
Simply log into your email, click the dotted button on the upper righthand side of the screen (when you hover over it, it says “Google apps”), and scroll down to where it says “Google Hangouts.” Then click “Video Call” and then you can invite people either using their email address or by copying a link.
Skype Meet Now
What would a video app list be without good old Skype? Although Skype had its heyday about 10-15 years ago, it’s making a comeback during quarantine. Plus, Skype has leveled up with a new feature, Meet Now, which functions much like the other video conferencing apps that allow you to instantly start a meeting. With Skype Meet Now, only the host needs to have Skype—all you have to do is click “Meet Now” on the upper left of the app, then copy the generated link, and send it to your invitees.
Webex, a video conferencing app that was acquired by Cisco in 2007, offers a nice free version that you may want to try out. In response to COVID-19, Cisco has improved the free version by allowing 100 participants to join a meeting and getting rid of the 40-minute limit on calls. Plus, your video is HD-quality.
Cisco Webex’s free version is a great alternative to Zoom since Cisco removed the 40-minute limit on calls.
Starleaf, which is a platform typically used by big companies, is now offering its basic video conferencing and messaging package free of charge for people to keep in touch during the coronavirus pandemic—this package includes 46-minute meetings and up to 20 participants. All you need is an email address to download Starleaf and get started with your happy hour.
GoToMeeting is a video conferencing app owned by the software company, LogMeIn. While a subscription will normally run you between $12/month and $19/month, you can get a free 14-day trial to see if you like it. You can start a meeting instantly or schedule one for a later time or date. It’s very easy to use, and much like Zoom, only the host needs an account to host a video chat.
Users of Apple devices, such as iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, can use Group FaceTime to stay in touch with each other, with group video chats up to 32 participants. You can use FaceTime over WiFi or using your cellular data, although it’s best to save your data and use it over WiFi, as long as the connection is fast and reliable.
Facebook Video Chat
If you’re like billions of other people on the planet, chances are you probably have a Facebook account. If you don’t feel like trying out other apps that you’ve never heard of, you could always try Facebook video calling. Powered by Skype, Facebook Video Chat is easy to use and allows up to 50 participants per call. Simply click on the messages icon on the top right of your Facebook screen. Start a new chat with the person or people you want to chat with then click on the video icon to start a video call.
On Facebook Messenger the instructions are largely the same—click on an existing chat and choose the video button in the upper right corner to get started. If you don’t have an existing chat with those you want to meet with, choose the “New Chat” button on the upper right, select the person or people you want to video chat, then click the video button.
WhatsApp is a free messaging and voice app owned by Facebook. It’s an extremely popular app for communicating with people around the globe because it’s free to make international calls or send international texts. Of course, WhatsApp uses cellular data if you aren’t connected to WiFi, but it’s still a great option for people to stay connected no matter where they are. In addition to calling and messaging, you can also video chat with up to 32 people through WhatsApp. To make a group video call, tap “Group call” then select the contacts you want to add to the video call, and click “Video Call.” You can also make a call from the “Calls” tab by tapping “New Call” then “New Group Call” then selecting the contacts.
How Fast Does My Internet Need to Be For a Video Call?
According to Zoom, the minimum bandwidth is about 600Kbps, although 1.5Mbps is recommended. Likewise, Skype requires a minimum download speed of about 512Kbps for group video chats, you’ll want to make sure you have faster speeds than the bare minimum. Moreover, Google Hangouts states that video chats between three people and more require at least 2Mbps download speeds. Don’t know how fast your internet speeds are? Try out our internet speed test.
Best Internet Plans for Video Chat
To ensure that you’ll have the best work-from-home experience or virtual happy hour possible, you’ll want to change to a high-speed internet plan if you aren’t already on one. Check out some of the fastest internet plans below.