Best Video Conferencing Software for SeniorsVideo Conferencing
With COVID-19 carrying a higher risk for the elderly, finding a way to connect safely with senior loved ones is more important than ever. Seeing each other in person may not be feasible right now, with the risks posed by senior care homes and the challenges of travel during a global pandemic.
Fortunately, the past few years have seen a surge in the number of video conferencing software options we have available. These all make it easy to “see” each other, if only virtually, and keep in touch with family during these times.
Even once we reach the other side of this COVID-19 crisis, it will be nice to have a video conferencing tool you can rely on to video chat with grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, and everyone else.
But, for all your options, how do you know which one to pick? Which video chat software is the easiest for seniors to use? So you can avoid being the inspiration behind memes like this:
Don’t worry. We’ve reviewed today’s best video conferencing options, and narrowed down our list to the most user-friendly ones. These make video calling so easy, you and your senior loved ones will be chatting in no time.
7 questions to ask when choosing video calling software for seniors
Not all video calling software is created equal. Here are the key features you want to ask when choosing an option for you and your senior friends and family:
1. How user-friendly is it?
Anyone can have technical difficulties, no matter their age. From your own experience with technology, you’ve likely found some things to be super easy, and others to be… well, not.
You want to choose a video conferencing option that’s easy for you, your senior, and anyone else they will be chatting with to pick up and start using quickly.
2. What are the tech specs?
Sight and sound are important when choosing video conferencing software for seniors. How big is their device’s screen? Does the app stream HD video quality? How loud is the volume? You want your senior to be able to see and hear easily.
3. Is the device or app compatible with your other devices?
It may not be the best idea to invest in a Google product if the rest of your home is outfitted with Amazon smart home devices. Always check that the software or device you’re using is compatible with the other technology you have.
4. Is privacy a concern?
Look into how the video software encrypts conversations. Also, ensure that your senior’s home internet is password-protected.
5. How’s the support?
Video chat shouldn’t feel like rocket science. But, if you do run into a problem, you want to be able to figure out a solution quickly. Does the video chat software have a lot of online documentation, video tutorials, or a support forum? How can you connect with someone if you have an issue?
6. How much does it cost?
Can you afford the device or software? Many of these video chat tools are free, so they definitely are. Paid options come with a lot more features, though, and it may be worth the price depending on your budget and needs. Check for AARP and senior discounts.
7. Device or app?
Today’s video chat software is available as standalone apps, as well as smart display devices, like the Amazon Echo Show or Facebook Portal. These devices have a lot of features beyond video chat, but they also require familiarizing yourself with a whole new device.
Depending on your senior’s technical aptitude, it might be easier to download a video chat app to their computer or smartphone. To that end, we’ll review video chat apps first, followed by the best video calling devices for seniors.
Best video chat apps for seniors
Not interested in introducing your senior loved one to yet another tech device? No problem.
Try one of these video chat apps instead, all compatible with a computer or smartphone your senior already uses.
Best for: Seniors with iPhones, iPads, or Macs
FaceTime is Apple’s built-in video chat app. FaceTime was first announced by Steve Jobs a decade ago, and it continues to be the favorite video chat app of iPhone users — a testament to its ease of use and reliability.
- FaceTime works very similarly to traditional telephone calls on iPhones, so the learning curve is minimal. You can also save FaceTime contacts to your favorites list to make it easier for your seniors to call you.
- FaceTime supports group calls for up to 32 people, so you could host a family reunion on there if you want.
- Kids and teens (and adults) can have fun with grandparents on FaceTime by using their Memoji (a custom avatar designed to look like you), Animoji (animal avatars that mimic your facial expression), or other special effects.
- You can turn any audio call into a video conference by tapping the FaceTime button.
- If your senior uses Siri, they can ask her to start a FaceTime call too.
- All calls are encrypted.
- It’s free!
- FaceTime is only available to those with Apple devices, so if your senior wants to speak to anyone who uses Android or Windows, they’ll need to use another voice conferencing software.
- On group calls, FaceTime automatically resizes the icon of who’s speaking, a feature some find disorienting.
Ease of Use: Facetime comes pre-installed on any Apple device, including iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, and Macs. All you have to do to turn it on is go to Apple Settings > FaceTime, and enter the email you use for your Apple ID.
Compatibility: FaceTime supports both voice-only and video calls between other Apple devices. It does not work with any non-Apple device. You can program it to only make calls over a wireless connection, so it doesn’t eat into your cell plan, or allow FaceTime to work over both cellular and the internet.
Price: Free. Facetime comes pre-installed on Apple devices, so there’s no additional fee to use it.
2. Google Duo
Best for: Seniors who already use Google products
Google Duo is the Android equivalent to FaceTime. This video conferencing software is made by the folks at Google, so you can trust it to be high-quality, reliable, and just as easy to use as their other free products.
- Google Duo supports both one-on-one calls and group calls.
- In family mode, you can use AR special effects and filters, or have the kids doodle something right on the screen for grandma.
- With the Knock Knock feature, you can see the face of the person who’s calling before you answer.
- You can see if other Google Duo users are online and available before you call.
- Google Duo uses end-to-end encryption, so you know your calls are totally private and no one else can see them.
- It’s free!
- While not exactly a dealbreaker, Google Duo does restrict group calls to 12 participants, which is 20 less than Apple’s FaceTime.
- Unlike FaceTime, there is no option to have an audio-only call on Google Duo.
Ease of Use: Google Duo is very easy to set up. You simply download the app to your smartphone, or you can use the web browser version. If you have the latest Google Pixel or Samsung phone, it comes pre-installed. You’ll just need to enter your telephone number and verify it. Then, you can call anyone in your contacts list who uses Duo.
Compatibility: Google Duo’s major selling point is its compatibility. While this video calling software was originally designed for Android devices and Google’s Nest Hub Max, the app can also be used on iPhones, other tablets, and web browsers. In other words, as long as your senior has a smartphone or a computer, no matter what type it is, they can use Google Duo.
3. Facebook Messenger
Best for: Seniors who already use Facebook
- Facebook Messenger supports free calls over a WiFi connection, but you can also make calls using your cellular data.
- Through the chat, you can also send voice messages, payments, and your location — which can be a helpful feature for those who worry about their senior getting lost.
- With Facebook Messenger Rooms, a feature released in April 2020, you can host a video conference with up to 50 people at once. You can invite people using their Facebook account, or send out a link for non-Facebook users to join.
- There are no time limits for group calls.
- Facebook Messenger has its own unique set of filters and AR special effects you can use to have a little fun, and Facebook Rooms has special virtual backgrounds.
- It’s free!
- You have to have a Facebook account in order to use Facebook Messenger.
- Facebook Messenger only supports video calls for up to 8 people. For larger group calls, you have to use Facebook Rooms.
Ease of Use: Facebook Messenger shares the same interface as Facebook, so if your loved one already uses Facebook, figuring out Facebook Messenger shouldn’t be a problem. Starting a video chat on Facebook Messenger takes just three steps.
- Open Facebook Messenger.
- Open a conversation with the person (or group) you want to video chat with.
- Tap the blue Video button.
Compatibility: Facebook Messenger can be used in your internet browser, or you can download the standalone app for iOS and Android.
Best for: Smaller families, seniors with friends or loved ones located in other countries
- Unlike FaceTime and Google Duo, which are exclusively video conferencing apps, WhatsApp has text messaging, group chat, and file sharing built-in.
- WhatsApp’s become famous as the app that allows friends and families across the globe to talk for free. WhatsApp uses your phone’s internet connection, so you can chat and text virtually without incurring any fees on your cell phone plan.
- WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption so all messages and calls are completely secured.
- You can share pictures, videos, and even documents like PDFs and spreadsheets up to 100MB through the app — perfect for boarding passes or family photos.
- It’s free!
- WhatsApp group video calls are limited to 4 participants, which may not work for large families.
- You need to have a phone number to use WhatsApp.
Ease of Use: WhatsApp is really straightforward to use. After downloading the app, you open it and verify your phone number. You’ll receive a text message with a code, which you’ll then need to enter on the app. After you’re set up, you can call anyone in your contacts list.
Compatibility: WhatsApp is available for Android and iPhones. There’s also an app for Mac and Windows computers.
Best for: Seniors who are hard of hearing, large families
Skype was one of the original internet calling softwares around, founded way back in 2003 (it’s older than Facebook!). Today, Microsoft owns this video chat application used by over 1.5 billion people worldwide.
- Skype’s subtitles feature is a godsend for seniors with hearing loss. Select “Turn subtitles on” and Skype will automatically transcribe what everyone is saying into live captions.
- Up to 50 users can be on a Skype group video call.
- In addition to video calls, you can also make audio calls on Skype, or use the chat feature to send images or text. You can even call landline phones, although data rates do apply.
- Skype is unique among our list in that it supports screen sharing, which is great when you’re trying to troubleshoot something with your senior’s computer, or you want to share a family document.
- Another favorite feature, that’s also unique to Skype, is the ability to record video calls. You can announce pregnancies or host virtual surprise birthday parties, and record your senior’s reaction!
- Skype’s Meet Now option lets you create a video meeting link that can be shared and accessed by anyone, regardless of whether they have a Skype account. These links have no time limit, require no download, and are good for up to 50 people using either the Skype app or their internet browser.
- It’s free!
- Skype can be very resource-heavy, so if your senior doesn’t have a strong internet connection, it can be known to lag, have reduced video quality, or even crash.
- Skype’s encryption only extends to Skype-to-Skype calls.
- Skype requires the longest set-up time of all the video conferencing software on our list, since you have to manually add in your contacts list.
Ease of Use: It’s easy to set up a video call on Skype. All you need is an email account. Then, you can add friends and family to your contacts list by looking up their username, phone number, or email. Then you just click their name to start a call.
Compatibility: The Skype app is available as an app for your computer (Mac and Windows), smartphone or tablet (Windows, iOS, Android, Kindle), Xbox or Alexa device, or used in your internet browser.
Best video calling devices for seniors
Video chat apps are nice and all, but maybe you want your senior to be able to do more — browse the web, watch YouTube videos, maybe test their trivia knowledge with Alexa.
For that, you’ll need a video calling device. Here are our top six senior-friendly options.
1. Facebook Portal
Best for: Seniors who use Facebook or WhatsApp, families with children who love bedtime stories
The Facebook Portal is Facebook’s foray into hardware, and it was designed first and foremost as a video calling device. Portal is a smart display. It looks like a digital photo frame, except that you can make video calls, watch YouTube videos, check the weather, and do much more.
The Portal family w includes four devices. All four Portals feature mostly the same set of features, so the right one for your senior depends on what screen size and sound setup makes the most sense.
- The Portal Mini is the smallest of the bunch, with an 8-inch HD display and 10-watt smart speaker.
- The Portal is two inches bigger, with a 10-inch HD display, and the same 10-watt speaker.
- The Portal+ is the largest and the loudest of all, with a 15.6-inch display and 15-watt speaker (plus a 4-inch woofer for deep bass).
- The Portal TV hooks up to your TV and uses your TV’s sound system, so it’s as loud and as big as your TV is.
- All Portals feature a smart camera, which tracks your movement and moves with you to ensure you stay in frame — as older folks sometimes forget to do when using video chat technology.
- The microphone is much stronger than what’s available on a smartphone or computer, so your senior can walk far away from the device and you can still hear them.
- All Portals come with Amazon Alexa built-in, so you can speak to the Portal to ask it to do something or start a video call.
- All Portals support video calling with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
- The non-TV portals all feature adaptive screens, so they match the lighting in the room to maintain maximum clarity and visibility.
- When not using Portal for video chats with your senior loved ones, you can program it to show pictures of your family memories, whether uploaded manually or via an Instagram or Facebook feed. You can also do activities together through Portal, like listen to a song on Spotify or watch a show on Facebook Watch.
- Speaking of shared activities, the Portal’s storytime feature will warm the hearts of parents and grandparents alike. This brings children’s stories to life, by way of synchronized AR effects. While you read the words on the screen, Portal overlays filters and masks on each of the “characters” to the grandkids’ delight.
- While the other Portals include everything you need in the box, you’ll need to buy a separate HDMI cable for the Portal TV.
- While all video calls are encrypted, the mic and camera stay on unless you actively turn them off. You have to put the cover on the camera or turn off the microphone.
- The Group chats are limited to 4 participants (WhatsApp) or 8 participants (Facebook Messenger).
- You can’t use the Portal when you’re not at home. The device stays docked by your TV or on a countertop somewhere.
- You can do much more with the Portal beyond video calls, but the number of apps is limited when compared to Echo Show or Nest Hub Max.
Ease of Use: The Portal ships with easy-to-follow instructions card in the box. You use a remote to control the Portal TV, and a touchscreen to control the others. The Portal TV can be a better option for seniors with poor eyesight or hearing, since it uses their TV screen and speakers, which are more powerful than any of the other individual devices. The Portal TV is also a better option for larger families, since more people can fit in the screen by just sitting on the couch, instead of hovering around a small frame.
Compatibility: The Portal only supports video calls through WhatsApp or Facebook.
Price: $129 (Portal Mini), $149 (Portal TV), $179 (Portal), $279 (Portal+)
2. Nest Hub Max
Best for: Seniors with smart homes
- When you’re not actively using the Nest Hub Max for a video call, or one of its apps, it functions as a digital photo frame, cycling through treasured family photos. It syncs with your Google Photos account, and you can ask Google Assistant anytime to pull up a particular photo at will.
- The large 10-inch display is sizable, so it’s easier for your senior to see you when you’re chatting than with a smartphone app. Like the Portal, the Next Hub Max camera is a smart camera that adjusts to your movement to keep you in frame.
- The Nest Hub Max also includes a stereo-quality speaker system (with a 30-watt woofer), making it one of the loudest devices on our list.
- In addition to video calls, you can also leave video messages for your senior loved ones.
- The Nest Hub Max gets an A+ for privacy, with a clear indicator light and switch for turning off the camera and mic.
- The Nest Hub Max gets its name from its built-in Nest camera. This smart security camera is always on and allows you to monitor your senior’s home — a great feature for those who worry about their senior loved ones and want a way to check in.
- The Nest Hub Max only supports video calls through Google Duo.
- It’s not cheap. The Nest Hub Max costs $229.
Ease of Use: Like most things from Google, the Nest Hub Max is easy to set up. The built-in camera is particularly helpful during video calls, automatically zooming in and out to keep you in frame, even as you move around the room. It also can be programmed to use gestures, so your senor can raise their hand to turn off music instead of speaking a command.
Compatibility: Beyond the included Google apps (e.g. Google Photos, Google Assistant, and more), the Nest Hub Max supports integrations with a number of third-party apps, including the built-in Nest security system, smart lights, thermostats, and more. It works with both iOS and Android devices.
3. Amazon Echo Show
Best for: Seniors with smart homes, Amazon Prime members
The Echo Show is Amazon’s smart display. Of the three smart displays we’ve featured on our list, it’s the most robust in terms of features.
- The Echo Show has a 10.1-inch HD display and premium Dolby speakers, so it’s large and loud enough for your seniors to see and hear.
- The Echo Show supports video calls via Skype, the Alexa app, and other Echo Spot or Echo Show devices. Seniors can start a call via voice command.
- As long as they have a phone number in their contacts list, seniors can also make free voice calls through the Echo Show.
- You can turn the mic and camera off instantly with the tap of a button.
- The Echo Show has Alexa built-in, so your senior can use the smart assistant to check the weather, plan their day, schedule reminders, or follow a recipe.
- Unlike the Portal and Nest Hub Max, the Echo Show’s camera does not follow you around, so if your senior walks out of frame, you won't be able to see them until they come back.
- Unless your senior is calling other people with Echo Shows, they’ll need to use Skype to chat, which requires a separate Skype account.
- At $229.99, the Echo Show is pricey.
Ease of Use: The Echo Show is surprisingly easy to set up. You put it in, connect to the internet, and that’s about it.
Compatibility: The Echo Show is compatible with a large range of third party smart home apps, and there are tens of thousands of Alexa skills, so seniors can use this device to stream music or video, listen to audiobooks or podcasts, manage smart home devices, and much more.
Best for: Seniors who aren’t tech-savvy
The GrandPad is a video chat device designed specifically for seniors. Don’t let the simplistic interface fool you, though. This senior product packs in a ton of functionality beyond video calls, including a video and photo library, music library, weather, and games.
- The GrandPad’s interface is very user-friendly and stripped down, with clear buttons and text instructions to make a video call.
- Seniors can make and receive both video and audio calls, and voice messages.
- The GrandPad rings for up to five minutes — way longer than most other video chat services — allowing seniors sufficient time to answer. If the senior misses the call, you can send them a pre-written text to let them know whether your call is urgent or not.
- The large “Help” button provides seniors with 24/7 emergency assistance.
- Family members and caregivers can use the Companion app to connect with the senior or make changes remotely to their device.
- The app also syncs with local rideshare services, ideal for seniors who no longer drive or own their own car.
- Notably, the GrandPad does not offer the ability to browse the web, like most other tablets today. Instead, to keep things simple for the non-tech-savvy, it offers a select number of apps. So, if your senior wants to do more with their tablet, they’ll need another option.
- In the U.S. you can currently only purchase the grandPad from Target, where it costs $250.
- In addition to Wi-Fi connectivity, the GrandPad comes with Verizon 4G LTE built-in, so you’ll want to ensure your senior lives in an area that’s covered.
Ease of Use: The GrandPad was made to be simple. It comes pre-programmed with large fonts and easy to understand color schemes that make it easier for older adults to navigate. If your senior runs into trouble, you can make changes remotely to their device for them.
Compatibility: The Companion app is available via a web portal or Android or iOS app.
Best for: Families of seniors with Alzheimer’s
ViewClix is the easiest video chat device for seniors. In terms of functionality, it’s also the most basic. This device has two main functions: video chat and digital photo frame.
- Whenever you’re not on a video call, the ViewClix Smart Frame displays an always-on, rotating gallery of family pictures.
- You don’t need an email account or telephone number for ViewClix to work.
- The auto-answer mode answers video calls automatically, without your senior having to press anything.
- With both 10.1 and 15.6-inch screen options, either of the ViewClix frames are sizably larger than a smartphone, which makes it easier for seniors to see your face.
- No spam calls! Families can set up a list of authorized callers in the smartphone app, and no one else will be able to call the device.
- ViewClix offers unlimited cloud storage for family photo galleries.
- The ViewClix does not make outgoing calls; it only receives calls from a list of authorized callers, who must use the ViewClix Mobile App to call the device.
- Only those who are authorized can call the device, so all of your senior’s friends and family will have to download the app and be authorized in order to video chat with them.
- The ViewClix requires an internet connection to work, whether via Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot.
- It’s expensive, ranging between $199 and $299, depending on the size of the frame.
Ease of Use: Thanks to its stripped-down functionality, the ViewClix Smart Frame is the easiest to operate of any of the video calling devices or apps on our list. Seniors don’t even have to press a button to answer a call from you. To send a call, authorized family and friends simply open up the app and press the call button.
Price: $199 (10.1-inch), $299 (15.6-inch)
6. Oscar Senior
Best for: Families of seniors with more advanced needs, seniors with home caregivers
Oscar Senior is a comprehensive virtual caregiving platform. In addition to video conferencing, it integrates your senior’s health data into one dashboard, allowing caregivers to reduce their in-person visits while ensuring the maximum amount of care. It’s more robust from a caregiving perspective, which explains the cost, but restricts the senior’s use of the device, so it’s better for at-risk seniors or those who are not very tech-savvy.
- In addition to video conferencing, the Oscar Senior platform offers key caregiving features like meal planning, medication management, video exercise tutorials, shopping lists, and appointment reminders.
- Oscar Senior collects health metrics from any fitness trackers your senior uses, as well as smart cameras, locks, and temperature and motion sensors placed throughout the home. These extra monitoring features can give your family peace of mind that you’ll be notified immediately in the event your senior needs you.
- Using the app, seniors can answer and receive video calls, photos, and text messages.
- Oscar Senior has an auto-answer feature, allowing family to call and check in on the senior any time.
- Other in-app features include games, Facebook, and news.
- Oscar Senior requires a strong internet connection to function well, whether via Wi-Fi or 4G cellular network.
- You have to pay a monthly or annual fee for each additional person on the app who’s not the senior.
- Group video calls are limited to 10 people or less.
Ease of Use: The Oscar Senior app is designed to be senior-friendly, with big buttons and a minimal number of pre-installed apps they can use for entertainment or health purposes. To sign up, every person needs to have an email address, including the senior. Once you download the app and sign up for your plan, it walks you through a tutorial of adding additional users.
Compatibility: The Oscar Senior app is available for use on any iOS or Android tablet or smartphone.
Price: It’s free for seniors to use the app. For additional users, Oscar Senior offers three paid plans: 1 user (4.99/month/person or $49.99/year), up to 3 users ($3.33/month or $99.99/year), or up to 9 users ($1.90/month or $189.99/year). There’s a 7-day free trial.
Pro tips to make video calling easier for seniors
Video conferencing is a blast once you get the hang of it. Older adults can take a little longer to pick up on technology, so follow these tips to set them up for smooth sailing on your video call:
- If possible, show them in person how to use the device and program it together. You can help them set up their contact lists, and show them how to make a call, answer a call, and end a call. If you can’t be there in person, record a video of yourself walking them through these steps, or send them instructions with screenshots.
- Make sure your senior has a strong WiFI connection at their home. You can call their internet provider to inquire about different tiers and upgrade their WiFi if you want.
- If you’re using a video conferencing app, place it on a prominent spot on the home screen of your senior’s smartphone where they can see it easily.
- Be patient! It takes us all different amounts of time to get used to new technology. You might have to walk the senior through it more than once.
Once you’ve helped your older loved one get savvy with video conferencing software, picking up the next piece of technology will be that much easier for them. It may not be long before they start hosting their own Instagram Live or organizing online book clubs with their friends.