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Being apart from the people you love is tough. Whether you’re studying abroad, moved for a job, or stuck inside because of the weather, it’s easy to feel disconnected and distant.
We live in an age where you can make a call or send a text in a couple of seconds, but that’s not always enough to cure the all-alone blues. We’ve thought of some projects that can help you feel connected, even if you’re apart, and gathered the gear you’ll need to help make it happen. Being on your own is tough; picking up a few of these essentials will hopefully make it feel easier.
Set Up a Regular Time To Video Chat With Them
Video chatting over services like Skype or FaceTime is a great way to “see” the people you’re missing without making a trip. Smartphones, tablets, and computers all have built-in webcams, but if you’d like to up your game, we have a couple of suggestions.
1. Acer Aspire 7
One of the best laptops for video chatting is this lightweight and portable Acer Aspire 7. The Aspire 7 is packed with a ton of work and gaming-ready features, like a powerful 8th generation Intel Core processor, 8GB of memory, and blazing NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics. It’s a great laptop for working from home, and it’s great for keeping in touch with others too.
The laptop features a built-in HD webcam, so you always come through accurately and clearly, while dual digital microphones get you cleaner calls, thanks to Acer’s “background noise reduction technology.” Two built-in stereo speakers use Acer’s “TrueHarmony” sound system, which deliver premium Dolby Audio. Your friends and family will look great too, on the Aspire 7’s 15.6-inch, full HD display. All this is packed into a portable package less than an inch thick and weighing just five pounds.
2. Logitech C270 Webcam
If you video chat using your smartphone or tablet, you’re stuck with the camera on that device, but that’s not true if you’re using a computer. Laptop webcams have to be extremely thin to fit between its screen and case, which means a sacrifice in video and audio quality.
I use a Logitech webcam when I video chat with friends, and recommend the company’s C270 model. The camera has a 720p HD lens, with a sensor that adapts to the lighting in your room. It also has a built-in microphone, which uses noise reduction to block out ambient sounds from interfering with your call.
The camera is built on top of a hinge clip that easily fits over the screen, and keeps it securely in place. You can adjust the C270’s positioning once it’s attached. This webcam connects to your computer via an attached USB-A cable, and is compatible with Windows, MacOS, ChromeOS, and Android.
Sold out? Amazon has a great, no-frills HD webcam available right now for just $29.99 here
3. Amazon Echo Show 8
If the person you want to video chat with isn’t very tech-savvy, or you want to chat while your hands are busy, Amazon’s Echo Show 8 is a great solution.
Put simply, the Echo Show 8 is an Amazon Echo with an eight-inch touch screen.
That means you can ask Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, for answers to questions, and to control certain smart home accessories, like Philips Hue lightbulbs. The information you want will be displayed on the screen — for instance, if you ask about the weather, you’ll see a five-day forecast, complete with high and low temperatures.
Those are great features, but the Echo Show 8 also has a webcam, so you can ask Alexa to start a video call with anyone else who has an Echo Show. You’ll have to give Amazon access to your contacts to make this feature work, but once you do, all you have to say is “Alexa, call ___” to start a video chat. The Echo Show 8 can also make audio-only calls; just tap the video icon on its screen to enable and disable the camera.
To protect your privacy, Amazon built a physical shutter to block the camera, and a mute button for its microphone. You can also delete all of your Alexa conversations through the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device.
Technology has become a barrier for video calling with people who aren’t interested in smartphones or learning how to configure webcam, but the Echo Show streamlines the entire process. Once it’s set up, either of you can start a video chat using only your voices.
Start a (Virtual) Book Club
You may not be able to communicate with the people you’re missing all the time, but sometimes it helps to know that you’re all participating in the same activity.
Book clubs are a great way to learn something new, or check out an author or genre you’re unfamiliar with. Pick a title, set a deadline, and mark a time to discuss what you’ve read. Having a book club meeting time can give you something to look forward to, and motivate you to actually get some reading done.
1. Choose Between a Physical or Digital Copy
Traditional book clubs require you to buy a physical copy of that month’s selection, but with a virtual club, you make the rules. If you’re strapped for time, or don’t want to carry around a physical book, you can pick up a digital copy instead.
Amazon’s Kindle store has the largest selection of digital books, and you don’t need a Kindle to read them — though we do recommend the Kindle Paperwhite. Once you’ve purchased the digital book, you can read it using the Kindle app, which is available on iOS, Android, PC, and Mac.
You can download the same book on multiple devices and the Kindle app will automatically update your place in every location through an Amazon technology called WhisperSync, so you’ll never have to worry about losing your place. If you’re used to using Post-It Notes to mark certain pages, or underlining important passages, Amazon has replicated that functionality inside the Kindle App by letting you highlight and mark important sections.
I’m a big fan of digital books because of their convenience, but you can still get a physical copy of the book you’re reading on Amazon too.
2. Consider An Audiobook
If the problem that’s keeping you from starting a virtual book club is that you don’t have time to read, you’re not alone (or out of luck). Audible — also owned by Amazon — is the largest audiobook store online, and it’s a great way to “read” books you might not have time for.
You can buy titles a la carte, or subscribe for a monthly fee to get either one or two credits, which you can use to get the audiobook of your choice. An overwhelming majority of Audible’s books cost one credit, so you should be fine. Once you’ve bought an audio book, you can listen to it via an app on iOS and Android, or your web browser on a PC or Mac.
Audible Audiobooks also support Amazon’s WhisperSync technology, which will keep your place if you listen to the same title on multiple devices.
I’ve been an Audible subscriber on and off for almost 10 years, and it’s helped me get through a number of books during commutes or long car drives. Many of Audible’s books are read by their author, which allowed me to experience the book the way they heard it as they wrote it.
Listening to an audiobook may feel like “cheating,” but it’s just as valid of a way to experience a book as reading it, you can even create clips of important sections, and refer back to them before your book club meeting.
Play Online Games Together
Online gaming lets you catch up and interact with friends from all over the world without video chatting. You don’t have to set up a livestream — just call your friends (or invest in a good gaming headset) and start playing. There are thousands of online games, but we’ve chosen to highlight Fortnite because it’s popular, free to play, and supports a technology called CrossPlay.
CrossPlay means that you can play the same game with friends who own different game consoles — in Fortnite’s case this means PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or Nintendo Switch. Many games don’t support CrossPlay, even if the title is available on multiple consoles, because console makers want to encourage people to play on their system. That’s changing slowly, but It’s still not normal.
Fortnite is a “battle royale” shooter where 100 people are dropped in a small location and must duke it out to be the last person standing. You can build cover or platforms by collecting materials from around the level while remaining vigilant at all times to avoid being surprised by your opponents. The game has exploded in popularity since its release in 2017, and over 250 million people have created an account to play as of 2019.
While the game is free, its publisher Epic has released the Darkfire Bundle, which includes digital clothing, accessories, and a custom emote you can use to chat. These pieces of flair are a big part of playing Fortnite, and this bundle is available on all platforms.