Video calling has become pretty much a necessity for those of us traveling moms who want to read the kids bedtime stories from our hotel rooms at a conference, or keep in touch with deployed military spouses or family overseas.

Wow, remember when we were kids and thought “one day we might be able to see people! Through our phones!”

Last week, a whole lot of us turned on the Skype to wish our families a happy New Year. Especially now that Skype mobile makes it easy to enable two-way video calls from the iPhone. But the truth is, there are so many amazing options out for video calling there besides Skype these days. Some of them fancy with frills, and some of them free free free.

Tango is another free mobile app that allows you to make video calls from an iPhone 4 or iPod touch, or Android 2.1 phones, to other other uses who have it installed. You connect with either WiFi, 3G or 4G. It’s great if you’re on an unlimited data plan, or stick with the WiFi connection and calls are free.

-To chat from your computer, Mac users have iChat free, which is quite good, provided your kids don’t get distracted by the wacky backgrounds that they can toggle to. It works with a MobileMe account, or your AIM account, meaning PC users have access too. There are also good parental controls to ensure kids are calling Grandma, and not…well. Someone else.

gmail video chat

-If you’re a PC user (or Mac too), options include Windows Live Messenger which conveniently integrates with Outlook. It offers video chat in HD, so you can share photos and videos too. Gmail Video Chat (right) is the newest entry and fast becoming a family favorite. There’s also Yahoo! Messenger which is now compatible for Mac OSX, and includes video chat, but both parties need to be using Messenger and in your Yahoo! network.

-If you’ve got Kinect for Xbox 360, it has a camera, right? It happens to work with Video Kinect so that you can video chat from your TV with family or friends, provided they also have Kinect, or simply MSN Messenger on their computer.

-A pricier but more comprehensive option is the Cisco Umi (shown at top) which works with an HDTV to enable video calling on your TV or through Google Chat. You know those ads with Ellen Page? Yeah, that’s it. We haven’t tried it but looks great–you can leave and receive video messages, and even store the video chats, and zoom in on the kids so everyone isn’t cramming on your lap in front of the camera. Major caveat: you need the camera, console and remote, and an Umi service plan starting at $25 a month.

Logitech Vid HD may win for simplicity. You find friends through email addresses, not screen names, and it takes no time at all to set up. It doesn’t have the features of a Cisco Umi, but all you need is a Logitech video cam and you’re ready to chat in HD video.

With all of these options, it’s kind of hard to believe we’re still using regular old voice chat at all. At least that’s what our grandparents say whenever they get to wave to the kids and tell them they love them. -Liz + Beth

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