Fed up with Skype possibly snooping into your life? There are plenty of alternatives to look to and all of them are free. We look at nine Skype-like apps for getting your chat on.
1. Messages (OSX)
Apple’s answer to chat is Messages, the upgrade from the fairly useless iChat app. Currently in beta, Messages has much to prove. Starting with OS X Mountain Lion preview, Messages features text, voice, video calls and screen sharing. Predictably, Messages offers cross-platform compatibility with iMessage, the free iPhone chat service. Messages is free for all Mac OS X Mountain Lion users.
2. Oovoo (Android, iOS, Windows, Mac)
For a pretty decent experience, invest in Oovoo, a multi-platform application with free video calls, file sharing and instant messaging. Users can pay a little extra and gain access to video conferencing, land line calls, and video call recording. Oovoo is a gem for business users looking for a stable video conferencing app and with over 35-million users, people seem to place their faith in Oovoo.
3. Fring (Android, iOS, Nokia)
Fring is an excellent chat and free messaging app, which edges out the competition with its stable and clear voice calls. It works over mostly any fast connection (with the exception of EDGE), does group video chat, allows free Fring-to-Fring calls and offers a texting alternative with its chat feature.
4. AOL instant messenger (Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows, Mac)
Since 1997, AOL has tortured decent Skype-like apps with its 90s style trappings. But the latest version of AOL IM seems to be the most hated of them all and includes various software irritations. AIM is social networking: idiot edition with elements of BBM and Foursquare shoehorned into what users are calling an “Epic Fail” on AOL’s part. Regardless, it’s an option for the AOL faithful.
5. Google Talk (Practically every platform ever invented)
That’s more like it. Google Talk is a great VoIP app, very user-friendly and above all, it’s clean. Gtalk (as the faithful call it) takes a Zen-like approach to chat, with phone calls being worked in as naturally as possible. Google also integrates Gtalk into Gmail. It’s great, but lacks the customisation apps of Skype.
6. Yahoo! Messenger
Free video, voice and text chat are some of the delicious morsels offered by Yahoo! Messenger. Yahoo! also delivers “Phone Out” for budget international calling. Added bonus: Windows Live ID’s can be added to Yahoo! Messenger, which saves you having to download a separate app.
7. Mumble (Windows, Mac, iOS)
Mumble’s the odd one in the box. As a voice chat service for gamers, it excels. As an out-of-the-box Skype replacement, maybe not. Mumble uses a native voice coded, called Speex which reduces background noise and delivers automatic gain control (the volume raises or lowers automatically). What makes Mumble so unique though is that it can be shoehorned into almost any environment, care of prefabricated scripting languages. Low-latency is a must with Mumble, so it barely makes an impact on bandwidth speeds.
8. Pidgin (Windows, Linux, Unix, OSX)
Pidgin is the slippery eel of the IM world. AIM, Yahoo!, IRC, Google Talk, Microsoft Live and Mxit are just one of many IM’s which can run from the all-encompassing Pidgin platform. Pidgin is the IM of choice for developers, as many of its updates come from users of the multi-faceted platform.
9. Facetime (OSX, iOS)
Admittedly, we’re not the biggest Facetime fan but millions use it, so let’s just advocate the sucker for the hell of it. Facetime is the video-calling feature built into Mac’s, and certain capable iDevices such as the iPad and iPhone 4S. From what we’ve seen, it’s functions pretty smoothly but the downside is that it won’t work over a 3G connection. Yip, Facetime is a Wi-Fi only service. Outside of this it works well, and when it does the video is smooth and hassle-free.