Introduction and design
Conference rooms aren't what they used to be, in fact, much of the time they aren't even held in an actual room but online, so that multiple parties can access them from virtually anywhere. Online conferencing solutions have become a booming business in and of themselves. These tools take what online chat and video forums like Skype and FaceTime offer on desktop and mobile to the next, professional level.
Some of the notable solutions in the web conferencing category are Cisco's WebEx, widely considered to be the pioneer in this category, and Citrix's GoToMeeting. After years of serving businesses with its screen sharing and conference dial-in line offerings, Join.Me by LogMeIn ($19.99, £12.70, AU$25.80 per month) is poised for competition. The online meeting app has finally integrated video capabilities into all its versions. The video features come at no extra cost, making Join.Me Pro one of the cheapest video conferencing solutions out there, and one that gives you a pretty big bang for your buck.
The layout of JoinMe.Pro is nothing to write home about, which is part of the point. It's simple, just like its usability, and it relays its services intuitively so that you don't have to do much thinking or researching. Once you initiate a meeting, a thin black rectangular bar with orange icons pops up. This bar also contains the access code, which you can email to anyone via Join.Me, or copy and paste to share on your own. You have to click on either of the four circular icons in order to bring up their pull down menus, which lists the extent of your options.
Join.Me Pro has a very light and fluid feel. I run it on my desktop for hours at a time and it doesn't appear to make any extra dents in the battery life or indicate that my system, which is at times also running a browser with several tabs open, a VPN, and a Netflix stream, is feeling bogged down. I enjoy the same sense of weightlessness on my iPhone using the app.
Though the A/V quality is poor, the layout of the video chat is refreshing. All participants are shown in small bubble-like shapes and you can move the entire group around the desktop to keep it out of the way, or make it the centerpiece. This fun, non-intrusive design helps counter the fact that the picture is grainy and low-res.
A serious issue with the design is that the little rectangular bar, one's house-key, so to speak, to the whole conference, is easily lost in the shuffle. Once I start looking through the web or going through documents, I have to click out of everything just to get back to that bar.
This actually opens a discussion to a bigger problem: it's easy to forget that you have Join.Me running. Admittedly I'm naturally absent-minded when I'm working, and sure enough on occasion, I forgot to log out of my session. Once, hours later, one of my conference guests pointed out to his surprise that he still had access to my screen. It's assuring that the connection endured all those hours, but I would have appreciated an expired session after a certain amount of inactivity. With something as privacy-sensitive as my computer, I want the option of more security alerts, similar to how the solution reacts to failed log-in attempts. Whenever I enter an incorrect password, I get an email notification.
Specs and performance
Join.Me Pro supports up to 50 participants and is equipped with screen and window sharing, file sharing, internet calling, unlimited white boards (on iPad only), share control, unlimited audio with international conference lines, stand-alone audio, recording, meeting tools (annotation, presenter swap, lock), a meeting scheduler (compatible with Outlook and Google Calendar plug-ins), one-touch meeting (iPhone and Apple Watch only), reporting, phone and email support, and 5GB of cloud storage, and 10 video feeds (on Chrome only). The Enterprise version, which I did not review, also includes user and group management, policy and permission management, authentication with single sign-on, Salesforce.com integration, and 5TB of cloud storage.
Specifications and value
Cisco's WebEx Premium 8 plan costs $24 (£15.25; AU$31.02) per month, or $19.00 (£12.71; AU$24.56) if you purchase an annual subscription. While this yearly package is slightly cheaper than Join.Me Pro, it supports three fewer video feeds (seven total). It's much cheaper than GoToMeeting, which starts at $39 (£24.77; AU$50.40) per month when purchased in a yearly bundle, or $49 (£31.13; AU$63.32) on a month-to-month basis. This service allows up to 25 participants and sticks to the seven video feed maximum. So, Join.Me, at least price-wise, is an SMB's best bet.
Join.Me explicitly lays out information on its pricing and product page so that a customer knows exactly what he or she is signing up for, even if they're only signing up for the free version. I reviewed Join.Me Pro only, and conducted my review based on the technology I have at hand, which is a Macbook Air (OS X Yosemite) and an iPhone 5s. I did not have access to an iPad so I couldn't test out the unlimited whiteboards. That this is only available on iPads is in itself a bit of a bummer and something to consider; unless everyone on your staff has an iPad, you can forget about that option altogether.
Performance and features
I used Join.Me Pro both before it had integrated video functionality, and after. Without question, the software performed better prior to the overhaul. The video technology is brand new, and one expects that there will be some kinks to be worked out, but it definitely has a ways to go before it can be considered a viable alternative to WebEx or GoToMeeting.
The issue is not so much with the video feeds, which actually appear instantly and connect clearly; it's to do with the system's comprehension of what is going on with the feeds.
For instance, I was video chatting with one person who turned away from the session to go about some other online activity. When he reopened the Join.Me tab, the system interpreted him as a new guest, even though he did not re-login to the meeting. This kept happening. At one point Join.Me Pro thought I had seven viewers when there were in fact only the two of us. It's also problematic that this feature doesn't, at least at this time, extend to mobile devices or browsers other than Chrome.
Recapping and sending files to myself following a conference took less than a minute and was successful. Sending these same attachments to other recipients didn't work out. I made two attempts in two separate meetings to send the recorded meeting to conference participants. I received no notice from Join.Me Pro that my files did not go through, but in fact, none of my indicated recipients received the documents.
The area in which Join.Me Pro soars is in the simple things. The screen sharing is smooth and immediate, the audio is clear and the chats send without delay. The conference line works without a hitch. Swapping the role of presenter is seamless and presenting itself is clear and straightforward.
Join.Me Pro is a quick, smooth installation and the app itself is easy to navigate. It masters the simple things an SMB may need from an online meeting and screen sharing service. The video chat feature is light and fun and malleable. Users can click on their own chat bubble to mute and unmute themselves and move the chat boxes around for preferred placement. The solution is very affordable and even the free version is generous with its features.
Join.Me Pro is not a pro tool yet, at least not with the video chat functionality, which is so core to a web conferencing service. Its operating system tends to spin out of control when participants minimize and reopen a videoconference tab, mistaking them for new guests. This induces a sense of chaos that is worrisome when dealing with sensitive materials. It's great that up to 50 participants can join a meeting, but is such an amount manageable on this software?
SMBs looking for a cheap and easy online meeting app should give Join.Me Pro a try, but they shouldn't abandon their other videoconferencing solutions just yet. I'm inclined to believe that a lot of the troubles I faced with the video chat are, regrettably, to be expected when a service has literally just launched, and that these kinks will be worked out sooner than later. That the core features were so easy to use on a Mac suggests things can only be better for a PC, which is what SMBs typically use.