What is Zoom? A comprehensive guide to the wildly popular video-chatting service for computers and smartphones
Even if you don't work from home, you've probably heard of
In light of the coronavirus crisis, the videoconferencing app has become the standard for connecting with others face-to-face virtually in both business and personal settings.
Zoom is now the video communication platform of choice for federal governments, tech startups, religious communities, and of course regular people looking to chat — and even party — with their friends and family.
Here's everything you need to know about Zoom, including how to download it and get started, along with a few tips and tricks to help you become a video-chatting pro.
What is Zoom?
Zoom is a cloud-based video communications app that allows you to set up virtual video and audio conferencing, webinars, live chats, screen-sharing, and other collaborative capabilities.
You don't need an account to attend a Zoom meeting, and the platform is compatible with Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android, meaning nearly anyone can access it.
Of course video-conferencing apps aren't new. Zoom is just one in a long line of communication tools that include Skype, Cisco Webex, and Google Meet. For example, here's a quick look at how Zoom compares to Google Meet, Google's videoconferencing platform for businesses:
In short, a big part of Zoom's appeal is simplicity. It's easy to get started, the app is lightweight, and the interface is relatively intuitive to use with popular features like Gallery View — a mode that allows you to see every person on the call at once — built right into the app.
How to get Zoom
Before we go any further, it's important to note that the platform offers four distinct pricing plans, from basic to enterprise. What's right for you depends on how you plan to use the app.
- Zoom Basic: This is the platform's most popular pricing tier, which makes sense, considering it's free. This tier offers unlimited one-on-one meetings, but videoconferencing with more than three participants is limited to 40 minutes (you can always start another one). If you plan to use it only every once in a while to chat with friends or family, check out our general overview of Zoom's basic features.
- Zoom Pro: The Pro plan is ideal if you work with a small team or plan to regularly conduct extended video calls. Beyond extending the group meeting length from 40 minutes to 24 hours, this tier allows hosts to create IDs for recurring meetings and the capability to store recorded meetings in the cloud, plus advanced usage reports.
- Zoom Business: A pricing plan to make collaboration easy for small to midsize companies, the Business tier requires at least 10 hosts. But what you get in return is company branding on all invites, dedicated customer support and more features like auto-generated transcription.
- Zoom Enterprise: This tier is designed for large businesses and sign-up requires a minimum of least 100 hosts. Enterprise offers plenty of perks, including unlimited cloud storage, a dedicated "customer success manager," and the capacity to host 500 people on a single call.
If you decide to change up your plan, you're not locked in forever. Here's a quick guide to help you upgrade or downgrade your Zoom account at any time.
Once you've decided on a plan, it's simple to download it whether on your computer or your mobile device. The platform is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices through the App Store and Google Play Store, respectively.
If you plan on using your computer, you'll want to head over to Zoom's official website and download it. Depending on the type of computer you're using, the process will be slightly different:
You don't need an account to join Zoom meetings, but you must sign up for an account if you plan on hosting, scheduling, and managing your own calls.
If you plan to use the platform often, whether for business or pleasure, we recommend downloading the app first, and then signing up for a Zoom account.
Getting started with Zoom meetings
Once you've downloaded and installed Zoom, you're ready to get started.
If you don't have an account and just want to join a Zoom meeting, you can do this a few different ways.
- Through a Zoom Meeting link provided by the host. All you need to do is click that link, and you'll be brought to the meeting.
- Or you can click "Join" on Zoom's homepage, and enter the Meeting ID manually.
- Alternatively, if you don't have access to the mobile app or desktop, Zoom supports dial-in calling.
If you do have an account and want to schedule your first Zoom meeting, all you need to do is head to either the app, or your account page on the website, where you can click the "Schedule" option. From there, follow the prompts.
When this is set, you'll be able to invite meeting participants to join your conference call, which you can send via email, contact, or phone number. We've outlined a few different ways to send a Zoom invite, but the easiest way is to share the meeting join link, which you'll receive when you schedule or start a meeting.
Once you're up and running and depending on your plan, Zoom offers varying levels of tools to enhance your video call. Take note of these core features.
- In-meeting chat: With this feature, you're able to send messages privately to an individual or to the group within a meeting.
- Recording: Every version offers the option to record your meetings, which you can start manually or automatically.
- Screen-sharing: Whether it's for a marketing presentation or a classroom lecture, sharing your screen is an easy way to show others your work.
- Breakout rooms: This allows you to split a single call into individual groups so participants can then have their own conversations.
More tips and tricks
If you're looking to get more out of Zoom, you may be interested in a few more settings and features.
Beyond simple tricks like knowing how to mute yourself and others on the call, you should familiarize yourself with the platforms advanced settings:
- Virtual backgrounds: One of the platform's more lively features, virtual background allows you to display and image or video as your background.
- Raise your hand: Zoom has a feature that lets you virtually "raise your hand," which notifies the meeting organizer that you have a point to make or question to ask, without disrupting the flow of the class or conference.
- Remote support: A helpful feature that allows you to take control of another participant's screen.
- Personal meeting ID: Only available for Pro accounts or higher, a personal meeting ID will make your meetings more secure, while also making it easier for your friends and colleagues to connect.
- Waiting room: A feature that lets you control when participants join a meeting.
If you're subscribed to the Pro pricing plan or higher, you gain access to Zoom Rooms, the company's conference room software and hardware that can turn any room into an official conference room.
For $50 a month, you gain access to the Zoom Room software. This software connects a television or monitor with your computer, an external camera, and a microphone. Put together, you can turn nearly any room into a professional-grade conference room. If you're looking to make your business as Zoom-friendly as possible, Zoom Rooms are a worthwhile investment.
What is Zoombombing?
You might have heard of "Zoombombing" before. This refers to people who gain access to Zoom calls without being invited, and try to wreak havoc. Earlier in the year, there were a number of widely reported Zoombombing cases, which led the company to crack down on them.
Now, whenever you start a call, it'll be password-protected by default, making it exponentially harder for anyone you don't know to gain access. Most calls also have a "waiting room" function, which requires the host to approve anyone who wants access to the call.
For more information, our colleagues have extensive coverage on how Zoom is handling these sort of threats.
Zoom can be simple to use, but difficult to master. Even with these guides, take time to explore the app on your own, and discover everything it has to offer.
With time, using Zoom to meet up with your colleagues will be as natural as meeting someone in real life. And if you ever decide otherwise, you can delete your Zoom account in five simple steps.
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