Zoom review: Are we alone now?

Zoom is undeniably having a moment - but is it suited for life under lockdown?

IT Pro Value
Price
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  • Minimalist interface
  • Symmetrical grid for video calls
  • Highly accessible
  • Poor reputation for security
  • Some options not as easy to use

“I think we’re alone now,” sang Tiffany on her 1987 hit single; “there doesn't seem to be anyone around”. It’s a feeling many self-isolating workers will be familiar with, and just like the track over three decades ago, remote video conferencing app Zoom is an absolute chart-topper. 

As of the first week of April, it ‘s the number one most downloaded app in 60 countries, with more than 200 million daily meeting participants. It’s not surprising that Zoom is used by schoolchildren, their remote-working parents, and self-isolating grandparents alike - the company’s service has been adopted by people across all generations. But is it still suitable for businesses?

Zoom review: Features

Zoom’s Basic Personal Meeting plan is free for anyone to use, allowing unlimited one-to-one meetings and 40-minute group meetings for up to 100 participants. It comes with many useful perks, such as the option to screen-share and collaboratively edit a document during meetings using desktop, tablet and mobile devices running Zoom. Another useful feature is the virtual Whiteboard, which will be appreciated by anyone working from home during the lockdown who misses the simplicity of collaboration from back in the office days. The unique Waiting Room feature gives the host the option to manage when a participant joins the meeting by admitting attendees one by one. You can also choose who to hold in the Waiting Room based on whether they’re not signed into Zoom. 

Apart from the basic free version, Zoom comes with three paid plans which you can choose from to suit your business needs. Ranging from £11.99 to £15.99 per month and host, you can choose between Pro, Business, and Enterprise. However, it should be kept in mind that the Business plan has a required minimum of 10 hosts, while Enterprise needs at least 100. All plans are business-oriented, allowing users to include 100, 300, or even 500 participants - and if that’s still not enough, Enterprise Plus lets the host include up to 1,000 participants. 

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Although the Free version has a 40-minute cap on group meetings, any of the paid plans remove this limit and allow meetings lasting up to 24 hours (although we’d strongly discourage the idea of hosting 23-hour meetings). All of the paid plans also come with Skype for Business interoperability and 1GB of MP4 or M4A cloud recording, which can be expanded from £32 per month.

It comes as no surprise that Zoom is a favourite among employees forced into remote working due to the ongoing coronavirus lockdown. The app keeps you feeling organised by making it easy to plan meetings well in advance in its Schedule function, which can be linked to Google Calendar using the Zoom Chrome Extension and to Microsoft Outlook using web and desktop add-ons.

Zoom review: Interface

Zoom’s interface is minimalist and makes the app a pleasure to use. Its simple, modernist design is reminiscent of Skype, but Zoom has managed to add more colours and even a simple calendar which showcases meetings for the day (with a pleasant potted plant design, to boot).

Its home page allows the user to navigate between starting a new meeting, joining an existing one, checking the schedule, or sharing the screen - all in simple square grid fashion. The additional tabs at the top, which let the user maneuver between the Home page and Chat, Meetings, or Contacts, could be more prominent, but overall there’s not much to complain about.

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When it comes to actual video conferences, users can view other attendees in rectangular grids which are laid out symmetrically across the screen. A helpful element is the name tags at the bottom of every grid, which can help you remember who’s who within the company. Usually you should know who you are speaking to, but it’s still a useful feature for employees of massive corporations or for those who are meeting people for the first time over video.

Zoom review: Usability

The app is easy to install and use (at least when it comes to its basic functions), but it’s also free and non-committal. This last feature in particular seems to be the secret to Zoom’s success. Users who are unable to install Zoom on their devices (or are just stingy on precious data storage) can join a meeting or webinar through their web browser. The option is so successful that even video conferencing veteran Skype has recently launched a similar feature called ‘Meet Now’.

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However, the option sounds better in theory than in practise. Zoom promises that a “Join from your browser” link is supposed to appear after the user clicks on the link to join the meeting. However, when tested, the option did not appear and the Zoom app was automatically downloaded instead. Turns out, there is a catch: the user who set up the meeting has to log in to their Zoom Account Settings, select a "Join from your browser" Link option on the Meeting tab, which is under In Meeting (Advanced). Sounds easy? Try explaining that to your coworkers right before the first Monday morning meeting.

Zoom review: Security and deployment

Despite all of these pros, it’s impossible to ignore the elephant in the room: Zoom has earned itself a somewhat patchy reputation for security. From FBI warnings and plummeting stocks to being banned by SpaceX, Google, the US Senate, and even Germany's Foreign Office, Zoom has faced the consequences of not making its security settings more comprehensible.

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Most notably, ‘Zoom-bombing’ and the lack of end-to-end encryption have been PR nightmares for the company, but these factors do not automatically make it a bad video conferencing platform. In Zoom’s defense, the tool became a victim of its almost-overnight success - it was designed for use by tech-savvy startups rather than casual consumers. However, since its popularity exploded at the start of the lockdown, the company has revised its security tools and added extra features such as passwords for meetings or the previously-mentioned Waiting Room. Nevertheless, you want to make sure that “we’re alone now”, do not share your Personal Meeting ID to your 2.5 million Twitter followers, in Prime Ministerial fashion.

Zoom review: Verdict

Zoom is a very slick video conferencing app which can be tailored to your business’ needs. Its minimalist design makes the interface user-friendly and easy to navigate, at least when it comes to its basic features. Despite Zoom’s recent history of security mishaps, the tool is under more scrutiny than before, which will hopefully motivate the company to make its security settings easier to use. When it comes to the aesthetic side, there are ways that the interface could be made even better, with more visually-appealing fonts in the nametags and different borders between the callers. However, that isn’t much of a complaint, if truth be told, and there’s a lot to like. 

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Zoom is having a moment, and this is reflected in its massive user base. Even if companies are banning the platform left, right, and centre, it’s still the most popular app at the moment and chances are, anyone who you wish to speak to already has it installed. At this point, it’s almost easier to jump on the Zoom bandwagon - and if you do, you’ll likely find that it’s popular for a very good reason.

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