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Join.me Pro review

Web conferencing software with support for huge audiences, but limited video conferencing

Price
£10 per month (annual contract)
  • Easy to use; Up to 250 invitees
  • Patchy video and audio quality

Update 18/11/2015 - Since this review was first published, join.me's video conferencing service has been taken out of beta. The feature is now available to free, well as paid-for, accounts. 

Join.me is a web conferencing service produced by LogMeIn Inc, a company best known for its eponymous remote login, control, and sharing service, widely used to provide remote technical support.

Three subscription levels are available, starting with a basic, ad-supported, free account that lets you hold a meeting with up to 10 users and entry-level audio, screen sharing and file transfer capabilities. It’s very much geared towards home users, but it’s worth bearing in mind that users don’t need a paid account to attend meetings hosted by someone else, so you won’t need to, for example, add contractors to your Pro account just so they can attend your conference.

Most business users will be looking at the Pro version, priced at £10 per user per month. Join.me Pro supports dial-in participants on a wide range of international phone numbers at local rates, the ability to record meetings, extra meeting tools such as presenter swapping and the ability for viewers to highlight and annotate presentation screens, and personalised URLs and background images.

Join.me’s Enterprise version comes in at £13 per user, per month and gives you extra control over those users, such as the ability to configure groups and restrict access to specific features by user or by group, as well as Active Directory Single Sign On support. Both Pro and Enterprise accounts allow up to 250 participants in a session, even if there’s only one presenter with a paid-for account.

Sign up and admin functions 

When you sign up for Join.me Pro, you’re immediately prompted to create a custom URL, add some profile information and upload a custom background image. Join.me’s meeting scheduler integrates with Outlook and Google Calendars, with connector apps and plug-ins available that allow you to schedule meetings and send out invitations from your calendar. The first time you start a meeting, you’ll also be prompted to download the Join.me desktop app.

If you’re not scheduling in advance, you can invite participants via email or by giving them your permanent link or a one-time code to access to your meeting. If someone who hasn’t been specifically invited to a closed meeting tries to access it, this will be shown as a “knock”, which you can reject or accept, allowing the participant to enter. You can also unlock meetings so that anyone with the URL can immediately join.

Join.me’s simplicity is its key selling point, but its admin interface has some powerful advanced features. The My meetings tab allows you to schedule events and view scheduled and draft meetings, as well as keeping a record of past meetings, allowing you to export these records, and providing easy access to recorded meetings. You get 5GB of free LogMeIn Cubby storage to house these. Recordings are saved as WebM video files, which you can stream or download. Recordings show the meeting’s active screen and everything happening on it, including all audio and video from event.

In the Pro version, the only real user control you get is the ability to manage presenters, who’ll have the ability to create and run meetings. Anyone you add to your account as a presenter will count as an extra user at a cost of £10 per month, but you can add and remove presenters from month to month as needed. When you add a presenter’s email address, they’re sent an invitation to create their own account login. Although they get no guided setup, Join.me’s knowledgebase contains extensive and up-to-date documentation and tutorials.

Running the meeting

You and your meeting’s participants can access your Join.me session in a variety of ways. The desktop app is probably the easiest in terms of smooth operation and range of controls, but you can also connect via a browser. If you don’t want to be restricted by the vagaries of internet connection speeds and VoIP quality, you and your users can also dial in. There are even extra numeric phone control codes to make it easier for presenters and moderators to manage and mute participants.

Although Join.me provides a wide range of voice features, video support, available to paid and trial users of Join.me Pro or Enterprise, is still very much in beta. Video chat users appear in space-efficient round bubbles. That’s helpful if you have a number of people in your video conferences, but the bubbles are rather whimsical for business communication and, more importantly, cut off everything except the very centre of each person’s camera view. While this is fine for simple chat, if you’re trying to present to camera, show viewers around an area, or refer to physical objects and references, it makes life rather difficult. We’d have preferred rectangular camera windows, similar to those used by Google Hangouts.

We were a little disappointed by the quality of both video and audio in Join.me. Audio quality is sufficient to have a conversation, but suffers when multiple people are talking at once, while video quality was notably pixelated compared to our reference tests using the same equipment with other services. Dial-in users found that audio quality was a little sharper, on average, than those using VoIP.

Adding the video beta brings a couple of extra buttons and settings, in the form of direct messaging and muting options for specific users’ video windows, along with video input selection, audio input selection, and volume controls. We found that video sessions worked best with all participants opted into the beta and using the Join.me desktop application.

Presentation toolkit

Other features remain consistent, whether you opt into the beta or not. The presenter can share their entire screen or a specific window. Viewers can be granted permission to annotate your screen, allowing them to highlight things they wish to draw your attention to. Other annotation features include basic shape and line drawing tools, and a laser pointer. Screen sharing is very much Join.me’s strong suit. Even when a viewer with a 1,366x769 display was viewing or controlling a PC with a 2,560x1,440 display resolution, everything was scaled properly, and interaction was seamless.

Presenter privileges can be temporarily handed over to one of your viewers, who can then enable a specific viewer to take control of their mouse and keyboard using the service. This is idea in technical support scenarios for businesses, and provides a useful compromise tool for companies that require both conferencing and limited remote support capabilities. Other useful tools given to the presenter include the ability to make and share recordings of sessions, which are then saved to a 5GB LogMeIn Cubby online storage account provided free with Join.me Pro.

As well as voice and video, participants can communicate via a chat box, which allows you to send group messages to everyone via @all, or address a specific user via @theirname, while attendees can request mouse control, presenter status, and access to annotation features. Users can also send file, which will be stored online alongside any recordings you’ve made. At the end of a session, the presenter will have the option of sending out a recap to all participants, making it easy to distribute files, minutes, action points, and recorded content.

Mobile apps allow Android and iOS users to view Join.me sessions, with the ability to view shared screens and participate in voice and text chat, although we found mobile refresh rates to be rather poor, even via Wi-Fi connections. Join.me Pro adds support for running sessions via the iPad app, with most of the same capabilities as the desktop version, although video is not yet supported by any of the apps.

Mobile screen sharing

Update Feburary 2016

The January 2016 update to Join.me's mobile app has added mobile screen sharing to the service. If the person with the presenter role is using the Android app, then they'll be able to share their screen with everyone else in the call.

It's great if you want to share a sequence of slides as part of a presentation or demonstrate an app product to a remote audience. It's even handy if you want someone on the other end of the call to help troubleshoot your Android issues, although, unlike under Windows and Mac OS, you can't hand over control of your device to a remote user. 

It's worth bearing in mind that, as with desktop screen sharing, the speed and fluidity with which your mobile display is shared very much depends on the speed of your internet connection. We noticed delays of up to 15 seconds when swiping from screen to screen on a phone with a 2K display. The quality of the mobile phone screen displayed on our desktop via the link was fantastic, though, with no apparent loss of detail or resolution.

The feature is currently only available to Android users, and the app still doesn't support video conferencing which was introduced to the desktop incarnation of Join.me in 2015.

Screen sharing isn't a killer feature for Join.me - Google Hangouts' free service gives you both screen sharing and video conferencing, for example. However, if you're already a Join.me user, it's definitely a useful extra string to the service's bow. Plus, it's also a feature that many of Join.me's commercial rivals have yet to implement.

Verdict

Join.me deserves credit for its simplicity, ease of use, and decent range of access options. However, with video features that are still experiencing growing pains and a minimum price of £120 a year for a single-user account, it only really comes into its own if you need to present to large numbers of people.

Join.me’s 250 participant limit is great. It compares very well to Google Hangouts for Work and TeamViewer’s maximums of 15 and 25 participants respectively, and is far cheaper than WebEx’s admittedly more polished and feature-packed high-capacity premium services. If you need to hold large public lectures or whole-company meetings via web conferencing, Join.me is ideal.

For businesses which only need to communicate with small groups, however, Google’s free and cheap services, TeamViewer’s one-time purchase requirements, and WebEx’s more advanced video support make them more appealing options.

This review was originally written on 27/05/2015 and has since been updated, most recently on 10/02/2016.

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