While Darrell thinks that Microsoft buying Skype in a $8.5 billion deal is probably good news for video chat users, there will probably be some Skype customers who are worried about the implications of the acquisition and may be looking for alternatives. While there’s probably no one service that provides a feature-for-feature replacement for Skype, there are plenty that offer great VoIP and video calling services, some of which are even better than Skype’s. Here is a list of some of our favorites:
- Google Voice. Voice is Google’s phone service, which launched to much fanfare in March 2009. It provides free PC-to-PC voice and video calls, free PC-to-phone calls within the U.S. and cheap calls elsewhere (for users in the U.S. only). One of Google Voice’s most useful features (again, only available to U.S. residents) is that it enables users to have one number that they can use anywhere — any calls placed to that number will ring all of the users’ configured phones. The service also provides a range of useful additional features, such as voicemail, SMS, conference calling, call screening and transcription of voicemail messages.
- Vbuzzer. A VoIP and IM service that, unlike Skype, is based on open protocols like XMPP and SIP. It offers free PC-to-PC calls, as well as paid-for PC-to-phone calls, with typically cheaper rates than Skype. It also features voicemail, call forwarding, caller ID, web conferencing and fax service.
- VoxOx. VoxOx is trying to be an “all-in-one” messaging app for both the desktop and mobile devices. It combines phone calls, IM, SMS, video chat, conference calling and even fax. It also provides similar “one number anywhere” functionality to Google Voice, and outgoing calls can be placed at competitive rates. While Charlie didn’t particularly like the Mac client when he reviewed it back in January, finding some shortcomings, it’s worth a look. The iPhone app is interesting because rather than relying on VoIP, it uses callbacks — the service can ring you on any convenient nearby phone line.
- Viber. iPhone users looking for a way to make free VoIP calls should take a look at Viber, a VoIP app that allows iPhone-to-iPhone calling over 3G and Wi-Fi connections. The app is free, runs in the background, doesn’t have any ads and won’t charge you anything to make calls. Android and BlackBerry apps are apparently in the works, which would extend the app’s reach significantly.
- Grasshopper. Looking for a step up from Skype to a more business-oriented virtual phone system? Grasshopper provides many of the features found in expensive office PBX systems for a fraction of the cost, including support for multiple users, each with their own extension, individual greetings, voicemail, web access and notifications by email or text message, as well as the ability to have local or toll-free numbers for people to call you on. Charlie was impressed by the product and its slick web interface when he reviewed it back in 2009. The type of advanced functionality you get comes at a higher cost than consumer-focused offering like Google Voice and Skype, however, with a range of plans available.
- 8×8 Virtual Office Pro/Solo. 8×8 provides another useful VoIP-based virtual business phone system. It’s available in two editions, Virtual Office Pro for businesses requiring multiple extensions, and Solo for individuals (see Charlie’s recent review). The system includes business numbers, voicemail, call waiting, music on hold, caller ID, three-way calling and the ability to record calls for storage as digital audio files. It costs $49.99 per extension per month for the Pro Edition or $7.99 per month for the Solo edition.
While some of the options listed above, like Google Voice, provide video calling as part of the services they offer, there are also some dedicated video chat apps:
- Tinychat. For multiuser video chats, Tinychat is great. It’s dead simple to use, requires no login, and has a clean interface. It’s Flash-based, so it should work in most browsers and up to 12 people can join a video chat simultaneously. The basic service is free.
- ooVoo. ooVoo also provides free multiuser (up to six people simultaneously) video chat, and has clients available for Mac, PC and a wide range of mobile devices. It even allows for high-quality video calling over 3G wireless networks.
- FaceTime. Apple’s video chat application is no longer just for iPhone users. With the launch of FaceTime for Mac in February, it works on Macs and any iOS device with a forward-facing camera, it makes it possible to place Mac-to-Mac, Mac-to-iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, and iPhone/iPod touch/iPad -to-iPhone/iPod touch/iPad calls. Video quality is high, supporting up to 720p resolution on more recent Macs.
What are your favorite alternatives to Skype?