If you're following federal advice and self-quarantining right now, good for you—you're doing your part to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that's spread rapidly across much of the world. You're also probably very bored, not to mention lonely. Long periods of isolation like those required by coronavirus quarantine can wreak havoc on your mental health, and one way to counter that—no, I am not going to suggest going outside—is to group video chat with your friends and family. You've probably only used group video chat for work, so you may not be in the habit of using these apps for fun, but hear me out—you can use them for virtual game night, a catch-up session with your friend group, or a video call with your entire family. (Another perk: You can hang up on the latter any time you want!)
I moved to the States from the U.K. almost ten years ago, so I'm well-versed in the art of group video calls. (I'm also well-versed in being hung up on during video calls, because my sister's teenage years occurred in that period.) So allow me to take you on a journey that I'm going to call How Not To Be More Isolated Than You Have To Be To Save Other People 101.
The "cool kid" app, this one is more akin to Snapchat than, say, Skype for Business. Billed as "the next best thing to hanging out in person," you get notifications when your friends are using the app—"Amelia is in the house!" it'll tell you joyously—and the idea is for you to effortlessly call other people "in the house," just like if you were approaching them at a house party. You can video chat with up to eight people at a time, you can play party game Head's Up (see below), and you can also "ghost" the house party (lol).
Zoom is a whole lot less cool than Houseparty—you've probably used it for a work meeting, which is a tell—but it's also much better for large groups. You can video chat with up to 100 people for up to 40 minutes on its free plan, and its interface is clear and easy to use. (You can also "touch up" your appearance, if that's something you're into.)
FaceTime would have been the leader this category, except for one thing—you have to leave off your non-iPhone-using friends, so it's essentially a party only for people with iPhones, Macs, or iPads. It's a shame, because it's perfect for this—there's a Group FaceTime option that you can add up to 32 people to, and if your service is bad you can switch to audio FaceTime without missing a beat. It's perfect, except for, you know, the non-iPhone thing.
Still in its early stages (meaning, you can expect it to crash occasionally), Bunch takes the Houseparty concept a step further and introduces a virtual game night. Described as the Xbox Live of mobile games, Bunch says it'll let you and your friends video chat while playing virtual pool, "Mars Dash," trivia, and "FlappyLives"—basically, Flappy Bird brought back to life. If you're interested in gaming-slash-talking apps, you can also try Discord, which is less strong video chat-wise but is developed to allow several people to play at one time without lagging.
The original. Also the app that your parents and grandparents are most likely to have, which makes it best for family video calls. Skype has a bare-bones interface and is difficult to mess up—there's a reason your parents are eager to Skype rather than download any of the aforementioned newfangled apps—so when checking in on friends and family that don't have a lot of time to download and learn a new app, Skype's your best bet. You can also call 50 people at once, as of last year—and did I mention it's free?
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Jenny is the Digital Director at Marie Claire. Originally from London, she moved to New York in 2012 to attend the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and never left. Prior to Marie Claire, she spent five years at Bustle building out its news and politics coverage. She loves, in order: her dog, goldfish crackers, and arguing about why umbrellas are fundamentally useless. Her first novel, EVERYONE WHO CAN FORGIVE ME IS DEAD, will be published by Minotaur Books on February 6, 2024.
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