The great quarantine of 2020 is underway and you're probably trying to familiarize yourself with the workings of video conferencing apps like Hangouts Meet, Skype, or Zoom. After all, it looks like sitting in front of a webcam will be the way to go for team meetings and casual chats in the next while. But if you don't have a webcam or, worse yet, your laptop's webcam makes you look like someone painted a literal blobfish on drywall, you probably might not be too excited to dive in. So, why not use that the lovely selfie cam on your smartphone that's idling around anyways and make that into your webcam? We'll explain how to do it and suggest some tools you'll want in place to elevate that aesthetic game — heaven knows all the tiny pixels of our video boxes need it.

The setup

First, you'll need to decide if you want your mobile device to connect to your computer to act as its webcam or act as a standalone camera.

If you prefer the companion setup, you'll want to install an app like DroidCam or Iriun for your Android as well as your Linux, Mac, or Windows machine. They'll let your computer recognize your phone as a webcam as long as they're either connected by USB or through the same wireless network and are pretty easy to use. It adds a good bit of workload to your circuitry, but you'll end up with a better visual result while still being able to use your computer to interact with the chat.

DroidCam Wireless Webcam
DroidCam Wireless Webcam
Developer: Dev47Apps
Price: Free

Iriun 4K Webcam for PC and Mac
Iriun 4K Webcam for PC and Mac
Developer: Iriun
Price: Free+

Though, if you'd rather shunt your entire chat facility over to your phone or tablet, you'll only need to download the app for your conferencing client of choice. If you'd rather be doing something else on your computer than staring at your co-workers' faces (no offense to them), this option should clear up some physical and mental bandwidth for you.

Hangouts Meet
Hangouts Meet
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free

Skype - free IM & video calls
Skype - free IM & video calls
Developer: Skype
Price: Free

ZOOM Cloud Meetings
ZOOM Cloud Meetings
Developer: zoom.us
Price: Free

Either way you do it, it's a good idea to keep your phones plugged into power as these video calls use a lot of juice.

At this point you've got the ad hoc webcam, but do you have a way to stand it up so that it points at your beautiful virtual face? Do you have enough lighting to illuminate said beautiful virtual face? And what will you use to help your very real eardrums listen in on those calls? I mean, hopefully you're being mindful of any roommates or family that may cross into your space at any point. Well, we've got some recommendations on what to get to help your smartphone help you look your best — even without makeup!

Device stands and lights

If you're using a desk or table to place your phone and light on, you'll want to have a lamp that uses LEDs arranged into either an array or, for even facial lighting, a ring. Some foreign manufacturers produce ring lights with phone mounts built right into them. As for a stand, we suggest opting for a small tripod that can stand up to one foot tall. We've used JOBY's GorillaPod and GripTight products for a while and found them to be versatile for many uses which is why we're recommending them.

But at the end of the day, you do you. This is just a guide after all.

If your preferred videoconferencing spot does not have an elevated surface, fear not: you can grab a full-size tripod and a phone mount instead. And, believe it or not, some companies produce combo tripod rigs which include a phone holder and a ring light — they're totally made for vloggers, though, so they might be a bit too specialized for the average person to repurpose post-quarantine.

  • AmazonBasics Lightweight Camera Tripod (50")
  • Sunpak 58" Tripod
  • Targus 66" Extendable Tripod
  • UBeesize 8" Selfie Ring Light with 51" Tripod Stand & Cell Phone Holder
  • Sunpak Portable Vlogging Kit (6" Ring Light + 42" Tripod + Phone Mount) for Smartphones

Be sure to test out your setup before going into your first call. Do you have to slouch or sit up straight to meet the camera eye to lens? Adjust the tilt of your phone and lamp. Maybe the light's too harsh on your eyes? Some parchment or wax paper clipped to a clothespin can help to diffuse it.

Audio gear

Odds are your shiny new smartphone doesn't have a headphone jack in it. And if it does have one, well, then your phone ain't so shiny new now, huh?

Okay, okay, sorry about that, I actually don't intend on guilting you into buying a new Bluetooth headset with active noise canceling — that's my colleague Taylor Kerns's job. I just want to point out, however, that the cabling on wired headphones and earbuds has proven the downfall of many phones. Just an errant slip of the fingers, catch on a corner, or mere forgetfulness of wearing your cans and gravity takes care of the rest. That's reason enough for us to only suggest wireless gear.

Android Police has made several recommendations on wireless earbuds and over-the-ear headphones that we've reviewed. We'll be mirroring most of our selections in the list below as well as providing a couple of lower-cost alternatives.

And finally, whatever you do, please avoid the fate of one unfortunate conference participant who went to the bathroom during a live call and forgot to mute her mic or shut off her camera... and had her mishap posted to the internet. Good luck.