Android users with front-facing cameras looking to make video calls from their phones have a lot of great options, but we found that Skype is the most mature and feature-rich video chat application for the job.
- Places video calls to desktop, TV and mobile Skype users via Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G
- All video calls to other Skype users are free (excluding data charges)
- Supports front and rear-facing cameras
- Also allows phone calls to landlines and other mobile numbers using Skype credits.
- Uses Bluetooth headsets for audio
Skype’s biggest strength is the wide breadth of its audience. There are Skype users who use their Android phones, Android tablets, iPhones, iPads, desktops, laptops, even their televisions to communicate, and with Skype for Android you can video chat with all of them. Skype may have its faults (and we’ll get to some of them in a moment) but after all, the best video chat application is the one you can actually use, and it’s a pretty fair bet that your friends and family have either heard of Skype or have Skype accounts already.
The Skype mobile app is incredibly easy to use, and comes pre-installed on many phones (which is both a pro and a con.) Video call quality was good in our tests even over 3G, although it was clearly better over Wi-Fi and 4G when it was available. It doesn’t hurt to also be able to voice call or IM with other Skype users through the app as well.
Skype’s biggest problem is that its support is a bit spotty on some Android devices. It only supports Android 2.1 or higher, and only devices using Android 2.3 or higher even support apps that request permissions to access their front-facing cameras. Video quality can be a bit spotty as well, especially over 3G in places where signal strength is weak. You can toggle quality manually, but it would be nice if the app would adjust based on available bandwidth.
Fring (Free) is easily Skype’s biggest competition, and rightfully so: it does beat Skype at a few things: it supports group video chat, and the developers want to eventually make the utility a universal video chat client that supports multiple application protocols. Still, even though it supports video chat, its user community just isn’t as broad as Skype’s, and you’re limited to mobile to mobile video calls, although you can call Fring users on iOS from Android. Fring supports more devices, bumping down the OS requirement to 1.6, instead of 2.1, and video call quality with Fring was solid, even over 3G. Audio quality was a little spotty though.
Tango (Free) is a rising star in Android video chatting, and supports video calls to other Tango users on Android, iOS, and even users who have Tango installed on their Windows desktops. Tango lets you place regular voice calls and switch to video calls when you want to share something. Unfortunately, even though Tango is growing, it’s audience is still relatively small, and you can only call other Tango members. Video call quality was good, albeit a bit stuttery, but it’s a great and growing alternative to Skype for mobile to desktop video calls. When it grows a bit and supports Mac OS, we’ll give it another look.
Qik (Free) is another alternative, and while its focus isn’t on video calling, it does video chat with other Qik users on iOS and Android just fine over 3G and Wi-Fi. The app works well, and allows you to place video calls to Qik users on select iOS devices as well as Android ones.
Google+ (Free) The competition wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Google+. The Google+ app for Android allows you to join hangouts using either your front-facing or rear camera, but like its iOS counterpart, you’re unable to start a hangout from your mobile device — a missing feature we expect Android to correct very soon. The app does let you video chat though, and depending on how Google+ evolves, Google+ on Android and hangouts could be big — assuming Google puts some feature into the app that let you know the app even supports hangouts. Right now you wouldn’t know you could join one unless you saw one in progress and tried it.
Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.
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