Tech that connects: 5 cheap ways to keep in touch this holiday season

Family/Kids, Relationships

Want to keep in touch with loved ones overseas during the holidays? These five services and apps can help by letting you message and make calls for free—or almost free.

5 great apps to keep in touch with faraway friends and family

#5 WhatsApp

Services: Messaging service that sends messages using your Internet data package or over Wi-Fi. Message people through the WhatsApp app on your phone and avoid paying potentially expensive international per-text fees. 

Compatibility: Works with many smartphones including iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian, Nokia S40 and Windows Phone. 

Cost: Free trial period for the first year. After that, it’s 99 cents per year.

#4 Viber

Services: Send messages or make calls from your computer or phone over Wi-Fi or a 3G data network.

Compatibility: Download on Windows or Mac computers or to Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Nokia, or Samsung Bada devices.

Cost: Free when communicating with other Viber users over Wi-Fi. If using a 3G network, you may be charged by your carrier. Calls to non-Viber users’ landlines and cellphones with ViberOut cost money.

#3 Skype

Services: One-to-one and group video and voice calls over the Internet, plus messaging and more. Limit of 25 people on group calls. 

Compatibility: Works with all kinds of devices, from Windows and Mac computers to smartphones, tablets, TVs and even Xboxes. 

Cost: The software is free to download. Free when calling another person with a Skype account. It does cost money to call mobile phones and landlines. You can buy credits or sign up for a low-cost subscription based on the countries you call most frequently.

# 2 FaceTime

Services: One-to-one video calls over Wi-Fi or cellular networks from device to device.

Compatibility: Works only with certain Apple devices, including iPad 2 or later, iPhone 4 or later, iPod touch and Mac computers. Both the caller and the receiver’s devices must have FaceTime software installed and have access to a Wi-Fi or cellular network. FaceTime software is already installed on newer Apple devices at the time of purchase.

Cost: Free if making calls over Wi-Fi, but you’ll be charged your carrier’s rates if you call over the cellular network. Note that people with older Mac computers may need to purchase the app for 99 cents.

# 1 Google Hangouts

Services: One-to-one and group video calls from computers and smartphones over the Internet. Limit of 10 people on group calls.

Compatibility: Available on Windows and Mac computers and on iPhones, iPads and Android devices. You must have a Google Plus account.

Cost: The software is free to download and calls made on Wi-Fi are free. Most calls to landlines and cellphones in the U.S. and Canada are free. Pay low rates for calls to other international destinations.

2 more apps you’ll want

Many of the services above are free if used over Wi-Fi, so download a Wi-Fi Finder app for your particular device.

Bonus: While staying in touch with friends and family this holiday season, keep track of Santa, too!