Video calls are now a firm fixture in most people's lives, as we spend more of our time in at home trying to keep in touch with family and colleagues. So, it's good to know that there are plenty of choices available when it comes to the apps that provide this service. In this article we compare two of the most popular options for Apple users, FaceTime and Zoom, to see what they each have to offer and whether you should think about switching.
How much do they cost?
FaceTime is completely free, while Zoom offers a free tier with some limitations such as a 40-minute time limit on calls. If you want to move up to the paid tiers then you can talk as long as you want, as well as recording calls and other benefits for £11.99/$14.99 per month.
Here's a breakdown of the different tiers on Zoom.
What devices can I use to make a call on FaceTime or Zoom?
FaceTime is only available on Apple devices: iPhones, iPads, Macs and later iPod touch models. While this is fine if your friends use these too, you'll quickly run into trouble when wanting to talk with those who prefer Android or Windows.
Zoom, on the other hand, is platform-agnostic, with free clients available for macOS, Windows, iOS, iPadOS and Android. There's also a plug-in extension available for Chrome that makes the service pretty much available on everything.
FaceTime comes preinstalled on iOS, iPadOS and macOS devices, while you can find the various Zoom clients in the relevant app store or on the Zoom download page.
What features do Zoom and FaceTime offer?
FaceTime is designed with simplicity in mind. You can make video or audio calls over Wi-Fi or cellular data just by pulling up the name of someone in your contacts (so long as they use an Apple device).
The app allows a maximum of 32 people on any one call (here's how to make group FaceTime calls), and you can automatically include everyone on a Messages thread simply by opening the conversation, tapping on the profile icon at the top and then selecting FaceTime.
The interface has little in the way of options and there's no in-built chat as you're meant to use Messages. iPadOS and Mac users can either use split screen mode or have the two apps open side-by-side so that chat is available, but the iPhone experience requires switching between FaceTime and Messages if you want to exchange texts during the call.
Another missing feature is the ability to share your screen with other people on the group call, although Apple does include the ability for those with Face ID-equipped iPhones and iPads to use Memoji and Animoji as their onscreen avatars... which might not be the right approach for a board meeting but can be fun with the kids. If all participants are using iOS 12.14 or later, or iPadOS, then you can also capture Live Photos of the call.
As Zoom is aimed more at the professional market, albeit with a fully featured free tier, there are more capabilities here than on FaceTime.
Calls can include up to 100 people and the host has the ability to share their screen or grant others permission to do so. Obviously, this is very useful if you want to share the latest version of a design, process or other feature upon which the team may be working, but also comes in handy if you need to provide technical support for a family member by taking them step by step through a solution.
Calls can be recorded to MP4 or MP4A files, plus there is the inclusion of both private and public messaging within the app. One fun feature is the Virtual Background that can be used to either replace your drab spare room with a beach view or simply hide the fact that you haven't had time to tidy up before the call.
Hosts are able to mute other participants, which can be very useful when chairing a meeting, and there are multiple view options that allow you to see the current speaker or everyone on the call.
Should I use FaceTime or Zoom?
As with most questions regarding technology, it really depends on what you want to do with the product. If it's a case of keeping in touch with your family or friends, and all of them own Apple products, then FaceTime is an easy-to-use solution that comes preinstalled and works straight out of the box. Plus, your grandma will most likely be able to get it up and running without assistance.
In pretty much all other instances, Zoom is a better service. The obvious advantage is allowing non-Apple users to be included on calls, but there's also the built-in chat, virtual backgrounds, screen sharing modes and other features that make it a fully functional solution for video calling and group conferences.
If you want to look at a comparison of all the top services you can use, read Best video-conferencing apps on Mac. And if you'd like to get a better service, whichever one you opt for, see How to improve video quality on Mac.