Obviously, these tests aren’t scientific, but now that FaceTime has some real competition from the biggest name in video chat, we thought we’d do a quick comparison of the two. We know there are other apps out there, but since these are by far the most well-known, we’re just covering these for now. For frame of reference, the tests were performed with either an iPhone 4 and an iPod touch 4G or an iPhone 4 and a Hackintosh running OS X with a Logitech Pro 9000 webcam.
Unlike Skype on the desktop, which has a lot of configuration settings that allow you to optimize video for different connections, Skype on iOS is a chat-out-of-the-box affair. It handles video chatting pretty well, though, since it limits the video quality of the outgoing video to keep it from sucking up your bandwidth. The audio quality we experienced was very clear, and while your outgoing video on the iPhone might not be the best, the incoming video is of higher quality if your chat partner is on a desktop computer. Quality will be a bit lower on both sides if it’s iOS-to-iOS. We did notice a bit of lag in between the video and the audio as well, though it was nothing unbearable—we still found it to be a pleasurable video chat experience.
Feature-wise, it’s important to note that Skype has a big leg up on FaceTime at the time of this writing (January 2011). Not only does it have the ability to video chat over Wi-Fi and 3G, it’s also cross-platform on the desktop, which means you can chat with any of your friends, whether they have Windows, OS X, or Linux.
While FaceTime doesn’t give you as many options as Skype, seeing as it’s iOS and Mac only (and is limited to Wi-Fi at the moment), it does still provide a good video chat experience. The audio quality was still pretty great, and there was no lag between the video and the audio like there was on Skype. The video quality was a bit better when you stood still, though if you started moving around the framerate would drop (until you stood still again).
Overall, I wouldn’t particularly pick one over the other, as they’re both great apps. If you put a gun to my head, I’d probably pick FaceTime, if only for the lack of lag—but the video quality in Skype, while lower, was a bit less distracting (to me, at least). They’re both great apps, and I wouldn’t push any of my friends to use one or the other while chatting with me. Like I mentioned before, Skype has the distinct advantage of being cross-platform and not being limited to Wi-Fi, so that’s always a big plus.