Video calls are a great way to stay in touch with any relatives or friends – they bring a real advantage of being able to see as well as hear the person you’re calling, making it much more personal and good way of helping you see if there are any obvious issues that you might otherwise miss on a telephone call.
Just a few years’ ago, arranging a video call was strictly for business users or computer experts but everything changed as a result of the pandemic and now it’s quick, easy and convenient to make a video call. This transformation has taken place over the last couple of years and means there’s a great range of user-friendly ways of making calls for free to a friend anywhere in the world.
You can arrange a video call from a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop – almost all have a camera built-in. If you have a desktop computer, then you might need to buy an add-on camera. Alternatively, and making the process even easier, there are new devices that allow you to make a video call via your TV or buy a small unit that’s dedicated to the job.
The main social media networks and messaging systems now have video calling built-in, again making it as quick and easy to start a video call as it is to send a text message. For example, if you use Facebook, or messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Facetime, then a video call is a click away.
If you’re not a social media user or you also make business calls, then there are software products such as Teams from Microsoft, Zoom or Skype that each let you make a video call to another user anywhere in the world.
Making video calls
Although it’s easy to make a video call from your smartphone or laptop, it can be confusing to an older user who’s perhaps less savvy with the latest tech or has difficulty using their phone. To help, there’s a range of devices specially designed to make it very easy for anyone to make or receive a video call.
Does it cost anything to make a video call?
Video calls work by using your internet connection but the call itself is almost always free. You probably already pay for your broadband connection but the call will be free.
If you decide to go for an all-in-one device as a quick and easy way to get started, then you will need to buy the device such as the Echo Show, CallGenie, Komp, or Portal. If you are using your phone, tablet or laptop then you can use free software such as Zoom, Skype, Teams, Facetime or WhatsApp.
Does each person on the video call need a special device?
Each person on the video call needs a computer with a camera, microphone and speaker plus the same type of software, but you could make a video call between a phone using Skype and a laptop with Skype. Or between an all-in-one device like Facebook Portal and a tablet running Facebook.
Can I call a telephone number from my computer?
If you make a telephone call from your home phone or mobile phone, you will be charged per minute – this can soon become expensive if you regularly want to keep in touch with friends or family abroad.
Some systems offer cheaper telephone calls allowing you to dial a normal telephone number directly from your computer and then sending your call via the internet, for example Skype is the best-known of this type of product.
Choosing the right video calling system for you
With so many options, which is the best one for you and your elderly relatives? Each has unique features that we describe to help you choose the right solution. Here’s our view on the top eight video calling devices.
CallGenie for video calls using your TV
CallGenie has been specially designed for older users and connects to your television to display the video call. CallGenie consists of a small box (that’s actually a small computer) that plugs in to the TV together with a camera that you attach to the top of the TV. The product uses Skype to make the calls, so it can connect with any other user who has Skype on their phone, laptop – or another CallGenie user.
- The system can be setup to only answer calls from known users – helping protect your relative from unwanted calls.
- It’s also easy to start and end calls and needs no technical knowledge to run.
- However, it does not support calls to other platforms such as Facebook, Apple Facetime, WhatsApp, Zoom or Teams.
- Alternative systems that also plug in to your TV include Facebook Portal TV – which needs a Facebook account.
The GrandPad is a slim tablet that has been designed specifically for older users – it has a clear display that lets a user make a call or send a message or email with just a tap of the screen. Thanks to the simplified software, it’s far easier to use than an iPad and, as a tablet, it also has a range of other features allowing you to view photos, listen to the radio, check the weather and the news.
Uniquely, although it works with normal WiFi it also comes with its own built-in data connection included in the price so it works even if the broadband is off. Setup is very simple – it’s all done for you and it’s ready to use out of the box.
Komp from NoIsolation
The Komp device is a stand-along unit that, like CallGenie, has also been designed for older users but takes a very different approach. The unit has its own large screen and camera built-in, so doesn’t need to be connected to a TV.
The system is incredibly quick and easy to setup – it connects to your WiFi network and then lets you make or receive video calls securely between known users such as family members or friends.
Echo Show by Amazon
Amazon devices are used in millions of homes to play music, control lights and more. The Echo Show is, like the Komp, a stand-alone unit with a screen and camera built-in.
The Echo takes a few minutes to setup and does need a (free) Amazon account. It’s very easy to use and can be setup to restrict calls to known friends and family. It has the benefit of combining all the features of Amazon’s technology so can also be used to listen to music or the radio or display photographs.
Portal by Facebook
The Portal is, like the Echo Show and Komp, a stand-alone device that has a screen and camera built-in. It’s not specifically designed for older users and needs a (free) Facebook account to use. Setting up is automated, though if you’re not a Facebook user it will be more complicated to use compared to the Komp or Echo Show but if you keep in touch with friends using Facebook then it’s incredibly convenient. It also supports calls to and from WhatsApp, making it more flexible.
There’s a Portal TV device that, like CallGenie, plugs in to your TV if you prefer a much bigger screen.
Google Nest Hub
The Nest Hub is a standalone unit from Google that lets you make video calls to other Nest users (and users who use Google’s Duo software). It’s quick and easy to setup, comes with a large 10-inch screen, camera and microphone all built in. Security is good, with a useful ‘knock-knock’ feature that allows a user to see a video of the caller before answering – great for helping your older relative’s security to avoid unwanted calls.
Similar to the Amazon Echo, with the Google Nest Hub you gain access to a wide range of Google software built into the device – so you can play music, watch videos, check the weather, connect to your Google calendar and so on.
iPad or tablet
If your relative is already happy using an iPad or tablet, then you might find it easier to use that for your video calls. You can either use Facetime, that’s included on the iPad, or install the Zoom, Skype or Teams applications. Facetime is quick and easy to use and needs no setup, but is limited to calling other Apple users (who have an iPhone, iPad or laptop).
Almost every new laptop includes a built-in camera (often called a web-cam) and so can be used to make or receive video calls. However, you’ll probably need to setup additional software: a Windows laptop will have Microsoft Teams installed and a Macintosh laptop will include Facetime. To make calls to a user with another system such as Zoom or Skype then you will need to install the right software.
Which video calling system is best for an older user?
If you want a fuss-free way of video calls between family or friends, then a Komp or Echo Show are very quick and easy to setup and install out of the box. The Portal takes just a couple of minutes longer to setup the Facebook account.
For a big-screen experience, connecting a CallGenie or Portal to your TV takes a few minutes and reduces the number of new technology devices in your home.
Five practical tips on video calling
- Reduce the risk of scams and use the security features to limit calls to and from known contacts – so only calls from friends and family are possible.
- For an automated setup in minutes go for a Komp, Echo Show or Portal that work almost immediately after unpacking and all include a screen and camera
- All of the units will need WiFi to connect to the internet – so you will need the access code to connect to WiFi
- It’s easy if all your friends and family use the same system (eg if everyone uses Zoom or WhatsApp) but if you and your family use a range of different systems then make sure the device supports as many as possible. The most flexible is a laptop, tablet or phone where you can install new software but the trade-off is tech complexity.
- For all the units listed here, you don’t need to buy any extras such as a camera or screen – they either come with everything built-in or come with a camera and work with your TV.