Better than Zoom: the top video conferencing tools in 2021

 

As millions worked from home during 2020, Zoom seemed destined to secure a lasting position as the go-to video conferencing tool for business and social calls. But by early 2021, the tool had seen its daily average users (DAUs) fall across key platforms and territories, while increasing numbers of users reported ‘Zoom fatigue’, and competitors made advances and improvements to their own video conferencing products.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the many people now exploring the alternatives to Zoom. Join us as we talk through some prominent Zoom competitors that could be a better fit for your business, from familiar options like Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, to cutting-edge virtual reality concepts from the likes of Oculus and Spatial.

Who knows – some of these video conferencing tools might just turn out to be better than Zoom.

Video conferencing alternatives to Zoom

Google Meet

meet.google.com/

Google Meet is one of the most popular video conferencing alternatives to Zoom.

Formerly known as Hangouts Meet, the tool was launched alongside Google Chat. Google intended for the two products to eventually replace its legacy communication tool, Google Hangouts.

Google Meet was previously only available to paying G-suite customers, but a free subscription tier was added in 2021. Key features of the tool include video calls with up to 250 participants, and tools to deliver presentations and save/record meetings to your Google Drive account.

Towards the latter months of 2021, Google Meet has made further advances, pushing out new features such as animated backgrounds and automatic speech transcription and multilingual caption generation. At this point, Google Meet is arguably beating Zoom at its own game.

Fancy features aside, perhaps the best selling points of Google Meet are its simplicity and accessibility. Call participants can join calls using their Google ID, and the tool’s user interface (UI) is refreshingly clutter-free.

Microsoft Teams

microsoft.com/

A vast number of users are turning to Microsoft Teams as a solution for online chat and video conferencing. By April 2021, the tool had accumulated a user base of 145 million DAUs, up from 75 million one year previously.

Microsoft is positioning Teams as a focal point within its software offering for businesses, and the corporation has given the product a fast-track to a huge install base by bundling it with the hugely popular Office 365 suite.

This approach to user acquisition has proven controversial. In 2020, Microsoft was the subject of an EU competition complaint filed by Slack, which claimed that “Microsoft has illegally tied its Teams product into its market-dominant Office productivity suite, force installing it for millions, blocking its removal, and hiding the true cost to enterprise customers.”

Of course, Microsoft would argue that people are choosing to use Teams based on its merits. Video calls on Teams have a variety of useful features that are arguably more than a match for Zoom’s offering, including call recording, live captions and a ‘raise your hand’ feature. 

Skype

skype.com/

It’s easy to forget that just a few years ago, Skype was one of the biggest brands in tech. According to CNET, the pioneering video conferencing tool was the sixth-most downloaded app of the 2010s, during which it was downloaded more times than the YouTube (#9) and Twitter (#10) apps.

Although many former Skype users have switched to alternative video conferencing platforms in recent years, there are still plenty of reasons to use Skype. To this day, the platform has a massive user base, even though many of those users are currently inactive, and Skype’s user interface (UI) and features remain as familiar and accessible as ever.

There are forward-looking reasons to use Skype, too. In September 2021, Microsoft announced plans for a major Skype revamp involving colourful themes, enhanced performance and “the […] coolest call stage in the world.”

Who would have guessed there could still be hype over Skype in 2021?

Mmhmm

mmhmm.app/

Mmhmm is a virtual camera software that links up to your video conferencing platform and adds visual elements to your calls. It works with most online video conferencing suites, so pretty much whatever tool your colleagues, clients or friends are using, you can use Mmhmm with them.

This tool is ideal for bringing a playful, creative tone to your video calls. It can add dynamic backgrounds and slideshow overlays to make your video calls more stimulating. And given the recent news that Mmhmm has raised $100 million in funding, we can safely assume further innovations are in the pipeline.

It’s worth noting that Mmhmm is not a standalone video conferencing product. You won’t be able to use it on its own; but you certainly could use it along with a tool such as Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams, to augment your video calls on those platforms and make them more fun and engaging. For the right user, Mmhmm can push the limits of what’s currently possible in video conferencing.

Alternative remote communication solutions – from Slack to VR

So far, this article has covered some of the best like-for-like alternatives to Zoom.

But what if your problem with video calls is not about Zoom specifically, but rather, about video conferencing technology itself? Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Skype all have their own selling points – but ultimately, there are greater similarities between these tools than there are differences.

To help those of you who are seeking a solution that’s more of a departure from the Zoom format, let’s look at some of the alternative remote communication options available in 2021.

Slack

slack.com/

Collaborative work platform Slack may not seem like the most obvious replacement for Zoom, given that many people associate Slack mainly with text-based communication.

However, Slack does in fact offer voice calls and video calls within conversations, plus the option to integrate with a video conferencing product such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. This capability to launch video calls within a platform that’s focused mainly around alternative communication methods could be the perfect antidote to video conferencing burnout.

Spatial

spatial.io/

Spatial is an “in-the-same-room” virtual reality meeting room and coworking space. It also happens to be one of the Target Internet team’s favourite communication tools.

With Spatial, each participant uses an AR/VR headset to meet together in a virtual space. Standout features of the platform include template-based virtual galleries, and interconnected spaces which are facilitated by hyperlinking between rooms.

One of the great things about Spatial is that it can be used with all the big, mainstream 3D headsets – including Microsoft Hololens 2, Oculus Quest, Quest 2, Nreal and PCVR. It also has web browser support, so you can share links to your spaces with any user. Even web browser users can get involved with a 2D version of the 3D space via a webcam feed, although this will be nowhere near as immersive as the full Spatial experience.

For more insight into this tool, read our guide on how to access a meeting in Spatial.

Facebook Horizon Workrooms

Horizon Workrooms (Beta)

Horizon Workrooms is a VR collaboration tool that enables users to come together within a virtual space, via their Oculus Quest 2 headsets. Users can brainstorm ideas, collaborate on documents and chat to teammates within the workroom space.

One downside to Facebook Horizon Workrooms is its limited accessibility. Every participant on a Workrooms call would need to be using their own Oculus Quest 2 headset, and many companies will likely struggle to facilitate the equipment cost and setup time this requires. The same criticisms arguably apply to Spatial – but only to a lesser extent, owing to that tool’s support for multiple VR headset types and browser-based participation.

With all that said, for small teams who are passionate about technology and mixed reality collaboration, Horizon Workrooms could prove to be the perfect remote communication solution.

Which technologies could replace video conferencing in future?

Spatial and Facebook Horizon Workrooms point towards a future where online communication could leave beyond video conferencing tools like Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. However, the mixed critical response which the Horizon Workrooms Beta has received would suggest we may still be waiting quite a while for a new technology to come along and eclipse the video call as we know it.

One leading contender to replace video conferencing is Google’s Project Starline. According to a Google blog post, Project Starline is a communication solution so effective, it makes you “feel like you’re there, together.” In a nutshell, this is a brand new technology that combines 3D imaging, compression and 3D rendering to deliver the uncanny experience of sitting in a room with another user.

Here’s a video from Google that sums up Project Starline better than we ever could:

Project Starline is yet to receive a B2C or B2B release date, and it’s clear that the technology requires too much expensive hardware to reach a large market at present. Nonetheless, this project has already proven the concept that it’s possible for technology to make two people who are apart from each other feel very much as if they’ve been placed in the same room. In terms of remote communication, that’s a giant step forward.

Wired reports that Google is said to be testing Project Starline technology with enterprise cloud businesses, telemedicine apps and media companies in 2021. When this product launches for business users, Zoom and its current competitors may soon look like specks in the rear-view mirror of technological progress.

Wildcard option: Getting more out of Zoom

We’ve now talked a lot about the products you could use to replace Zoom, and the technologies which may supersede the video conferencing format in years to come. This is all useful stuff to know, if you’re interested in improving your team’s remote communications.

Having said that, before you leave Zoom, you may find that your best course of action is simply to start using Zoom more effectively. Do some research into advanced Zoom tips and tricks – and if you’re still unsatisfied after putting your learnings into practice, you can confidently make the switch to an alternative tool. Yes, there are plenty of impressive alternatives out there – but Zoom didn’t become an online sensation completely by accident.

Interested in Digital Marketing Elearning - Start Free 30 Day Trial >