We are several weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic (who knows how many more to go). People are already feeling the full effect of social distancing, the dreaded 2 metre distancing rule and being separated from their friends and family members. It has been especially tough for Alex Nieora as she really enjoys travelling and meeting new people. Alex has travelled widely across the States and previously lived in London in the UK and, briefly, in Coimbra in Portugal.
Alex Nieora is doing her best to make the most out of a bad situation and wants to help you do the same.
Thankfully, during these daunting days, there are various websites and applications to keep you connected with those whom you would normally see in person on a regular or semi-regular basis.
Alex is a proud mother originally from Santa Clarita, California, who has a family-first outlook. She has reviewed some apps and video-conferencing options that will help you remain in touch with loved ones as you stay safe.
Zoom went public in 2019 and has rapidly become the most popular pick of the bunch when it comes to online meetings and other events since the stay-at-home orders began. Convenient and simple to use, attendees can join a publicly shared link without having to download any software. Up to a hundred people can virtually squeeze in on a meeting with a free account although free meetings are limited to 40 minutes. Teachers hoping to conduct lessons or seminars remotely will find the application particularly useful. Zoom also offers break-out rooms.
Note: there have been some security concerns with Zoom admitting some of its data has been “mistakenly” routed though China – so Alex would urge you not to use Zoom to communicate sensitive or confidential information. However, going some way to address these concerns Zoom has now upped its security, introducing passwords for meeting participants.
Universally seen as a must-have cell phone application, WhatsApp ticks several boxes, offering free video sessions, group messaging, phone calls and guaranteed privacy from its end-to-end encryption. A distant relative or friend can be easily contacted as long as both parties have installed the free app. File transfers are incredibly efficient as well, and another piece of good news is that you are not overloaded with forced updates repeatedly. Alex Nieora highly recommends WhatsApp.
Apple’s built-in video call feature also incorporates steady encryption practices, with the company unable to see what you are sharing on a call. FaceTime is free for iPhone and iMac users and does not require downloading an app. However, there are a few drawbacks: only users with Apple devices can access it, a maximum of 32 users can join a call and people cannot enter by a link, unfortunately.
Signal is an encrypted messaging app that is gaining traction because of its assured security, Alex Nieora says. Largely going mainstream, the free app is great for massive group chats, but, somewhat irritatingly, does not allow for group video calls. Still, it does provide one-on-one video chats while ensuring that your conversations receive terrific security and encryption.
Founded in 2003 as a student project by Emil Ivov at the University of Strasbourg, this video-conferencing platform has now gone mainstream and is growing in popularity. Jitsi Meet is recognized as a more secure alternative to Zoom. Jitsi Meet is an open-sourced application (outside parties can verify its security) and heavily encrypted. A maximum of 75 participants can fill up a chat but, for a superior experience, it is suggested that the number be limited to 35 or less.
Houseparty is a video-conferencing app that comes with a fun twist: a number of games are included in the program, such as trivia and drawing challenges. Although anyone in your contact list can join your “house party” room, don’t be worried, because you can lock your room after all of your desired guests have arrived.
Anyone with a Gmail account can use Google Hangouts, which is a great option for video chats in particular. A maximum of 25 people can take part at once. Regular chats are more flexible, capable of fitting up to 150 people per room. You can join a hangout through Gmail, the Hangouts application or a Google Chrome extension.
Final Thoughts from Alex Nieora
As explained, there are many apps at your disposal to keep in touch with your loved ones during this period of self-isolation. Which one is best for you and your needs? The only way to know is to try a few out, says Alex Nieora. Just keep in mind what your device’s limitations and capabilities are. And remember the people you want to communicate with will need to have the same app.