While nothing can truly replace being with together with loved ones, there are many devices and online services to help you stay in touch during the era of the coronavirus while staying safely hunkered down at home.
Free video chat apps and web platforms that you can download for iOS or Android, or use on your computer:
- WhatsApp: This app is a great way to message, call or video chat. It has encryption services built into the platform to ensure your communication stays private.
- Skype: Skype allows you to send messages, pictures and videos to other Skype accounts. You can also make phone calls to non-Skype contacts, including landline numbers — however, this functionality comes with a fee.
- Zoom: Zoom is a popular video chat hangout option. There are some privacy concerns with Zoom calls, as well as a 40-minute time limit if you have a free account.
- Google Hangouts: Anyone who has a Gmail account can start and join a Google Hangouts video call. There’s no time limit to your video chat, but only 10 participants are allowed in the video chat room at a time.
Devices that make loved ones feel closer
Here are some devices you can buy to help your loved ones feel nearby:
- Alexa devices: The Echo Show is Amazon’s smart display that allows you to do a lot of things around your home — including having a hands-free video call with other Echo Show owners, or anyone who has the Alexa app on their smartphone. All Echo devices can be used for an Alexa Drop In, a voice call option that operates similar to walkie-talkies, but between Echo devices in different homes.
- Facebook Portal: Facebook Portal can be used to video chat with your Facebook friends via Facebook Messenger. Since Facebook owns WhatsApp, you can also use your Facebook Portal to make and take WhatsApp video calls.
Online services that help you hang out
Here are some online services that can help you hang out with others as you play a game, listen to music, or watch a movie together:
- Netflix Party: By synchronizing playback and offering a group chat feature, Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that synchronizes playback and offers a group chat feature so you can watch movies and TV with your friends.
- Steam: Steam is sn online gaming service with in-game message and voice chat capabilities. It has 30,00 video games and no subscription fee but it costs $5 to more than $60 to join multiplayer games. Steam also offers Remote Play Together, which allows you to share a game you’re playing at home with up to four friends remotely. This feature streams video, audio and voice between players.
- Collaborative Spotify playlists: Spotify allows you to create a song playlist with friends that you can listen to anywhere.