I have a close-knit family. My sisters and I talk a lot any given week. The thing is, we all live in cities spread miles (and countries) apart, so we rely on social media, texting and, when time zones line up nicely, video chats. And with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and so many other “let’s talk!” holidays coming up, it made me eager to try the Rounds app, a Facetime alternative that offers live video chat to both iOS and Android users. What’s more, you can share photos, make voice calls — even  play games and watch YouTube videos together. All for free.

Did I mention unlimited text messages? That too.

After giving it a spin last week with my sisters — one in San Diego and one in Toronto — the app was instantly added to our roster of communications apps. Rounds is fun and fairly easy to use. And with the recent update to the group video chat, the app now works cross-platform so, unlike with FaceTime, video chats between Android users and iPhone folks is not an issue.

I really like that the Rounds app lets you connect with up 12 people for a massive group video chat; I can totally see the Happy Mother’s Day call or your family’s trademark off-tune Happy Birthday song made that much special and sweet when you’re all “together” via this app. There’s no lag with the video, and I didn’t experience any of that annoying “frozen screen” that can happen with video apps.

(And I don’t mean Elsa overlays.)

 

Rounds app Facetime alternative for group video chat across platforms

 

Another cool thing that sets Rounds app apart from FaceTime is that you and your crew can watch YouTube videos together, play a few pre-loaded games, and take snapshots of yourselves using the shared screen. Less important, you can add a draw or scribble on the screen, just for a bit of silliness while you chat. Not that this is the key reason you’ll want it, but it’s a nice extra.

One thing I admit I am not too keen on is how you add another video caller to a ongoing chat. Turns out you have to send a code out to callers beforehand, but that essential info isn’t apparent at first look. So just keep that in mind before you get a call started.

Overall, Rounds is a fun app that can help bridge the distance between loved ones across miles, smartphone platforms or — real talk — different rooms of the same house. Because sometimes I admit it’s easier to send a text from the family room to the kitchen, right?

Rounds app is a free download on iTunes and Google Play.

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