The sheer power of video is well-known; we all remember what it did to radio back in the ’80s, after all. But what would happen if video picked a fight with video? Curious, we tossed two of the top video chat options into a cage to determine the superior specimen. Skype may be the big man on campus, but the Google Video Chat plugin delivers the same features from within the Google ecosystem. There can be only one!
Round 1: Video and Audio Quality
Google video chat looks better, hands down. As you can see in the screenshots below —which were taken with the same device, on the same network, in the same time frame—Google's picture is clean and clear.
Whether you're using it in Google+, Gmail, or the Google Talk app, Google's video calls come through crisp and clear. And the UI is very clean and intuitive.
Skype, on the other hand, is much more pixelated and blurry, though still serviceable. There are more glitches and momentary freezes in Skype's video calls. Don't get us wrong, Skype is totally usable—just nowhere near as smooth as Google video chat. These results stayed the same across multiple devices and networks.
My God, it's full of blurry pixels! Skype's audio and video quality isn't anywhere near as crisp as Google video chat's, but it still gets the job done. (Just not prettily.)
The audio quality for both services is akin to talking to someone on a cellphone. As expected, group video chats degrade in quality as more users join in, though Google handles large groups better.
Round 2: Device Support
Both video chat services do a bang-up job of supporting all the major operating systems, including Linux. The big difference lies in auxiliary device support. Google's desire to integrate video and voice calling into its ecosystem and Skype's focus on universal functionality come to a head here.
Google video chat is available on both Android devices and the iPhone via either the Google+ or Google Talk apps, but that's about it. Skype, on the other hand, makes video calls through its dedicated Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone apps, as well as a growing number of Smart TVs that either ship with Skype and a webcam or offer a webcam accessory.
Google video chat is a browser plugin rather than a stand-alone program, so installing it is a marvel of simplicity: Install the plugin, then restart your browser. Boom! Done. (The desktop Google Talk app doesn't support video calling.) The service uses your existing Google ID so most people won't even need to go through the hassle of setting up an account, though Google chats only work in Gmail, Google+, and the GTalk app.
Skype is a stand-alone program, so it takes a bit more work to set up. The process is straightforward, but downloading and installing a large program, then creating a Skype account takes much longer than setting up Google's video chat plugin.
Both services are remarkably easy to use: Just select a contact and start jib-jabbering. Chatting couldn't be simpler.
Click the next page to see rounds four, five, and conclusion.
Round 4: Additional Features
Both services include the ability to make free voice calls to other members and low-cost calls to outside telephone lines, but Google one-ups Skype by offering free calls to the U.S. and Canada. Skype currently charges 2.3 cents per minute for domestic U.S. calls.
Google offers free, limited texting through Google Voice, but not directly through the video plugin itself. You need to pay 9 cents per domestic text with Skype.
Google also comes out on top during group video chats. Google+ Hangouts are easy, powerful, and support up to 10 simultaneous users, for free. The ability to edit Google Docs or watch YouTube videos as a group is a huge plus. Skype handles 10-person video conferences, too, but at least one person has to have a Premium subscription.
Round 5: Number of Users
This originally wasn't even going to be a category, but then we tried to actually use Google's video chat and none of our numerous Google contacts were online to serve as test subjects, aside from fellow professional tech dorks. Ditto the second time we went online… and the third… and the seventh….
Posting a request for help on Google+, where we have hundreds of followers, resulted in a couple of positive responses (thanks, Scott Davis and Trevor Foster!) and several comments along the line of, "Meh, I don't use that."
Skype, however, is virtually synonymous with video chatting and overflowing with active users. A key factor is the integrated Facebook functionality; your Facebook Friends also appear online with Skype. Finding people to chat with is a snap on Skype.
And the Winner Is…
What? Google video chat won three out of five rounds—including A/V quality, by far—and Skype still wins the crown? Yep, and here's why: Google video chat is a ghost town. Skype may not look as pretty or offer Google video chat's bells and whistles, but it's nevertheless an incredibly solid service with a user base that actually uses it. Your mileage may vary if you can convince your pals to board Google's bandwagon, however.
Note: This article was taken from the September issue of the magazine.