Chromebooks are great, inexpensive devices that can be used for a wide variety of PC related tasks. From the basics of email and web browsing, up to photo editing and gaming, you’ll find plenty of apps that can make these versatile machines incredibly useful. As pretty much every Chromebook comes equipped with a built-in webcam they are also excellent for making video calls to friends and family around the world. Using Skype to achieve this is something of a challenge though, but an excellent alternative is available. Also see: 10 best Chromebooks.
Update January 2017: According to Google, all new Chromebooks in 2017 will run Android apps with support for the Play Store out of the box. The following walkthrough will still be useful if you are using an older Chromebook.
How to use Skype on a Chromebook: Installing the Skype app
A very common question we’re asked is how can you use Skype on a Chromebook? To which the answer is, basically, you can’t. Sort of. Technically it is indeed possible to get Skype up and running on the Google powered device, but it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. So in most cases we would advise against trying it and instead opt for Google’s own Hangouts service which acts in almost exactly the same way. If you’re determined to stick with the Microsoft empire, or your family simply can’t bear to move themselves from Skype, then with a little effort you can make it work.
Google has recently been experimenting with ways to run Android apps on Chromebooks, via a specially created runtime. So far there are only four officially supported apps - Vine, Evernote, Duolingo, and Sight words - but the eventual plan is for a lot more, which will hopefully include Skype. Installing any of these apps on your Chromebook will also include the runtime in order to work. Then if you can find the relevant APK for Skype you’ll need to package it so that it will run on Chrome OS. As we said, it’s not for everybody. There are several instructional videos on YouTube showing you how to achieve this, so search for ‘run android apps on chrome’ and you’ll be able to try it out.
How to use Skype on a Chromebook: Using Google Hangouts as an alternative
The easiest, and we’d suggest best, alternative to using Skype on a Chromebook is Google’s own Hangouts app. This video messaging service offers many of the same capabilities - including group chats, instant messaging - and if you use it on an Android phone you can also make voice calls to iPhones, iPads, Chromebooks, and of course Android devices that also have the app installed.
As you have a Chromebook it stands to reason that you also have a Google account, otherwise you couldn’t have logged in to the device. Hangouts uses your existing account as your ID and is very simple to use. Just follow these steps and you’ll be chatting with friends in no time.
Step 1: To launch the app go to the bottom left hand corner of the screen and click on the dotted, square icon to open the app tray. In here you’ll find the green speech bubble icon for Hangouts. Click this to launch the app.
Step 2: Now you’ll be presented with a pop up box asking you a few questions about permanent links, people to invite, and a few other small details. For now we’ll ignore this, so click Close and you’ll be taken to the main Google Hangout screen.
Step 3: The webcam on your Chromebook is now active and you should see a real time video of yourself in the centre of the screen. If you move your mouse pointer more options should appear from the left and the top of the screen.
Step 4: Across the top you’ll see the standard video calling icons. Here you can invite people, mute the microphone, turn the camera off, adjust bandwidth use (which essentially lowers video quality if your connection is weak), general settings, and leave the call.
Step 5: The left hand column has different options some of which are somewhat playful. Draw allows you to doodle all over your friends - something we know the kids will love - and Google effects can insert various backgrounds, including a deserted beach.
Step 6: Other options are more useful, with the Chat icon launching an IM window; Capture taking a screenshot; and Screenshare which allows you to display your desktop with anyone else on the call - great for sorting out any technical issues.
Step 7: Of course the main point of Hangouts is to contact people. So to start a call go up to the Invite People icon and you’ll see the box that open when you first launched the app. Now type someone’s name into the box marked ‘Send invitation...’ and your contact list should appear.
Step 8: Once you’ve added everyone you want on the call - you can have up to nine friends at once - then click on the green Invite button to start the Hangout. You’ll return to the video screen and others will join as and when they accept the invitation.
Step 9: Remember that other people don’t need a Chromebook to take part in a Google Hangout, as the service works on phones and tablets that have the app installed. They’ll still need an internet connection of course, preferably using wifi to avoid eating up their data plans.
Step 10: If you want to set up a regular Hangout, say for a weekly team meeting, then you can use the permanent link feature offered at the start. Just bookmark the link, share it with your colleagues, and you can return the call whenever you want.
Step 11: You can also make use of the Skype style ability of making calls to landlines and mobile phones at low rates. Click on the Add Telephone option in the invite box and you can call the US & Canada usually for free, plus the rest of the world for a small fee.