Video chat platforms on mobile devices have evolved at an impressive pace. However, even despite many of them being available in the App Store, the two most important ones remain Skype and FaceTime.
The first one is a third party app that brings to the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch the experience of the ultra-popular video calling service that became famous on the PC and the Mac. The other is Apple’s own offering, which debuted along with iOS 4 a couple of years ago. Both are open, free, and on paper should perform similarly. Of course, this is not entirely true, and both Skype and FaceTime offer quite a different experience.
Let’s compare both on some important fronts and try to find out which one is the best video-calling service out there.
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If you are a heavy Skype user who comes from the desktop clients, then Skype for iOS might shock you a bit. The iOS version of Skype offers mainly a take-it-or-leave-it experience, which might feel a bit limiting especially for those used to the plethora of configuration options that the desktop counterparts of the app offer.
That said, Skype for iPhone and iOS devices does quite a good job limiting outgoing video in order to save bandwidth.
Skype for iOS also allows you to make calls both through Wi-Fi and cellular, which is one of its biggest assets and something that FaceTime does not fully support yet.
If you thought that having few options in Skype was kind of a letdown, then the amount of options on FaceTime will downright depress you. In fact, about the only choice you have is deciding which phone number or email account you would like to assign to FaceTime calls.
This might come as an issue for some, but I think there is nothing wrong with this (not for me at least), since I just want video calls to simply work for me without having to deal with a bunch of settings.
Thankfully, when it comes to actually using FaceTime, this lack of settings and configuration options makes it a truly always-ready experience. There is no need for any buddy lists or friendship confirmation in order to make a video call. You just make a regular call and tap on the FaceTime option or just head to your regular contact list and choose FaceTime from the additional options within each contact. This is one of the positive effects of Apple’s vertical and somewhat closed integration of users’ devices and IDs.
On the downside, FaceTime still doesn’t fully support calls over cellular, which is a huge downside, restricting iOS device owners to use it over Wi-Fi only.
Note: Some carriers already allow FaceTime calls over cellular, but support is very limited so far.
When it comes to actually making video calls, Skype performed quite well, with video and audio quality ranging from acceptable when video chatting with someone on another iOS device to excellent when doing so with someone on their desktop or laptop.
Overall, the video calling experience through Skype for iOS is very good with one exception: At times the audio started to lag and to lose sync with the video signal, especially when calling over cellular. It is not a deal barker but definitely affects the whole experience somewhat negatively. On top of that, for some reason 9 out of 10 Skype video calls that I placed stopped abruptly after 2 minutes. This seems to be a bug with Skype, since it also happened when I placed video calls via Skye from my Mac.
When video calling, FaceTime performed admirably, with both video and audio quality being quite better that Skype even over the same Wi-Fi signal. Video quality while chatting with a Mac user was also better than when between iOS devices, although I believe this has to do more with camera quality than with FaceTime itself.
Overall, FaceTime definitely performs smoother than Skype, with video calls being slightly more fluid and audio and video being always in sync.
When it comes to compatibility, there is no contest between FaceTime and Skype. If you want to use FaceTime, you have to be an Apple device owner, since Apple’s own video calling app is only available on iOS devices and on Macs running Lion or Mountain Lion (it runs on OS X 10.6.6 as well, but you need to buy it first).
On the other hand, Skype is available in just about every platform imaginable, ranging from iOS devices to Android and Windows phones and of course, on all major desktop operating systems, including Mac, Windows and Linux.
Skype or FaceTime: Which One to Choose?
Despite both being very capable video calling apps and each having its own pros and cons, recommending one over the other is fairly easy, and it will depend entirely on your needs.
If you place video calls mostly with other iOS device or Mac owners and you are always connected to Wi-Fi, then FaceTime definitely provides the better experience despite its limitations. If you call friends with devices other than Apple’s, like to call on the go and away from Wi-Fi or are already a Skype user, then Skype will have you covered.