The Easiest Video Chat Apps for People Struggling With Technology

Social distancing is critical to shortening the COVID-19 infection curve and keeping us safe, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Of course, we have things like social media, video chats, and a lot of entertainment available to us at any time, but people who don’t have technical skills find it harder to figure it all out.

This is especially true for seniors who already suffer from increased loneliness and tend to grapple with the rapid changes in technology that most of us use to keep in touch with each other. Fortunately, with the right apps and a properly configured device, we can help people of all experience levels stay connected with friends and family.

This guide focuses on popular applications that include text, voice and video chat functionality and have easy-to-use interfaces that do not require additional account registration. So while Skype, Zoom, Discord, Telegram, and other similar apps may be the obvious choice if using a PC or smartphone is second nature to you, they are likely to be too difficult to deal with for people who are a little bit tech-savvy.

Before we get into the app suggestions, let’s talk about making it easier to use your smartphone (or any other gadget) in general.

Availability options

Most devices you own include many accessibility options and settings that can make them much easier to use. These accessibility options can do everything from enlarging buttons and text; adding useful shortcuts; simplification of application interfaces; and even hiding extraneous functions, notifications and applications. These settings are often reflected in the applications you install, although some of them may have application-specific accessibility settings that you need to customize. In any case, these parameters should not be ignored as they will greatly simplify the use and explanation of a new device or application.

We’ve got guides on the many options available on Android and iOS / iPadOS to help you get started. Gadget Hacks also has a great smartphone setup guide for seniors or technophobic users. Their guide is geared towards Android phones, but the general advice is (mostly) relevant for Android tablets as well as iPhones and iPads.

With that in mind, let’s move on to the app suggestions.

FaceTime (iOS, iPadOS, macOS)

FaceTime is the default video chat app included with your iPhone, iPad, and Mac, so this will be the easiest option for people who already have an Apple device and will only be in touch with other Apple users.

You don’t have to install any additional apps, and any iOS accessibility options you enable will apply to FaceTime as well. The interface is usually easy to use and learn, especially if the person is already familiar with other Apple apps like iMessage.

However, if you need the ability to connect with people on other platforms, such as Android or Windows, you will want to use one of the cross-platform solutions below.

Facebook Messenger Lite ( Android , iOS / iPadOS )

Facebook Messenger Lite is a smaller and sleeker version of Facebook Messenger that lacks a few extra features to keep you focused on texting and video / voice calls. You can still send pictures and videos in Messenger Lite, but features like dark mode and message threads are not available. It also lacks some additional animations (like profile pictures sliding to the bottom of the chat to indicate that the user has seen the message), so conversations are much easier to download and read. Facebook Messenger Lite even gets rid of the chat bubble toast notifications on Messenger mobile apps, which can annoy or confuse some users.

Messenger Lite is cross-platform and its interface is largely identical no matter what device you use it on, which should help keep the experience consistent for those with different devices. There is no PC version of the app, but the main Messenger web client is available if needed.

Just like the main Messenger mobile app, you can use Messenger Lite without a Facebook account, and make calls or send text messages easily from your device. The app is free, like all of its features – just make sure video calls are made over Wi-Fi to cut down on data usage and avoid potential additional costs.

WhatsApp ( Android, iOS / iPadOS , Windows, Mac )

WhatsApp is another free option owned by Facebook, but it differs slightly from the Facebook messenger.

In particular, WhatsApp’s default privacy settings are better than Facebook Messenger’s. All WhatsApp messages and call data are end-to-end encrypted, which basically means they can only be read or accessed by the users in the conversation. If you’re concerned about data privacy, WhatsApp is probably the easiest option. Of course, there are other messaging apps with even stricter privacy controls, but they’re not as intuitive or as popular as WhatsApp.

WhatsApp’s interface is also easy to use, and some may find it even simpler than the already stripped-down Facebook Messenger Lite interface. Like Messenger, WhatsApp can be used to connect with other WhatsApp users as well as contacts stored on the device, and everything you do in the service is completely free – messages, voice calls, and video chats.

WhatsApp has dedicated Windows and Mac apps in addition to Android and iOS versions, as well as a web client that can be synced to the same profile.

Oscar the Elder

This last choice is slightly different from the previous three, but still worth noting. Oscar Senior isn’t just a video chat or messaging app; it is a complete digital service package.

Oscar Senior is essentially a small, add-on operating system that includes many features to enable older users to keep in touch with family, friends, and caregivers. It is designed to be easily accessible to people with minimal technical experience. Oscar Senior can be used for calls, text messages and voice chat, and to keep track of important care data. The interface uses large, easy-to-find buttons and large text widgets, and it only takes a couple of button clicks to start a video call.

The service has several payment level options and it requires quite a lot of customization to get started, but the company is currently offering a free two-month trial due to COVID-19. It is available on iOS, Android, Mac and Windows.

Smart speaker is not an app, but an easy way to stay connected

Another good option is to ditch apps and phones altogether. Set up a smart speaker for your loved ones with technical problems and they can reach you with a simple voice prompt. (You can even jot down trigger words and key phrases for them to help them get used to their devices.)

You probably want whoever, whoever you are trying to connect with, has a smart speaker using the same platform as you; if you are an iOS user, this is HomePod. If you’ve already invested in the Amazon ecosystem, your friend or loved one should pick up an Echo device. If you are using Android or have your own Google smart home devices, they will probably need some kind of Google Home speaker.

All of these speakers can be used for regular phone calls as long as the owner also has a qualified device – usually either with the company’s operating system or using a suitable app on their compatible smartphone. You may need to do this customization yourself for your friend or relative, as it can be a little tricky for those not tech savvy, but the results will be worth it. Smart speakers are a great and simple solution to stay connected.

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