Is your brood in need of a high-tech upgrade? Many families who have cut back on travel are looking for ways to keep connected to their out-of-state relatives. The good news is, there are plenty of web services and applications out there that can help – no matter how spread out your family is. Even better, most are free or inexpensive. Read on to hook up with three primo options.
How it works: Consider Skype your computer’s answer to the phone. Once you download the program for free, you can call anyone else who has it (and there are millions!). If the other person doesn’t have Skype, you can still call their cell phone or a landline, but you’ll pay a nominal per-minute fee.
How it helps: Beyond calling, if you have a webcam, you can talk live to family members (only one-to-one; no multiple call-ins). Also, you can choose to have Skype run on your computer all the time. Like instant messaging, Skype lets you know when someone from your contact list is online. You can give them a quick call right from your computer. Skype will automatically grab all of the names and numbers in your contact list, so you can just click and call.
There are some limitations: Certain family members might not be willing to do the download. But where Skype can really benefit families is when they’re spread across continents. If you have relatives overseas or travel frequently abroad, this program is an inexpensive, easy way to chat.
How much it costs: Free. But you may need a headset or a Webcam. If you’re calling a cell or landline, calls will cost, but the rates start at a reasonable 2.3 cents a minute.
How it works: Like Skype, ooVoo.com can act as your computer’s personal telephone. But ooVoo’s real draw is video chatting. You’ll need to download ooVoo to get started, and those you talk to need to have the program running, too.
How it helps: You can bring up to 12 people into the conversation and see them all at the same time while you’re talking. Text, picture messaging and screen sharing are also options with ooVoo.
How much it costs: Free. Available on Amazon Fire Phone, Android Smartphone, Android Tablet, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Mac, Windows Phone and PC.
How it works: Video chat right from your phone. Simply download this app to your iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Kindle to get started.
How it helps: You have the option to group chat, send texts and images, plus make free voice and video calls to any kind of phone. Also allows you to find friends, photo share and even play games.
How much it costs: Free. Must have iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Kindle to use.
How to works: FaceTime allows you to conduct video calls from your Mac, iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.
How it helps: Want to show grandma your new bedroom? Walk her through it while video chatting on FaceTime. It’s like having your family member right there with you.
How much it costs: Free. Must have Mac, iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch to use.
How to works: Send messages, make video calls, voice calls and share photos. You can conduct video chats with up to nine people.
How it helps: Works across devices, so you can use Google Hangouts on your computer and your cell phone.
How much it costs: Free. All you need is a Google account to get started. There are some additional charges for phone calls outside of the United States and Canada.
Which app do you use? Tell us in the comments section below.
This post was originally published in 2009 and has been updated for 2015.