See far-away family this Christmas with the right tech

Christmas is a time for family, but not all families can be together. Stay in touch with those who are not driving home for Christmas with the right tech.

It’s great to be able to get the whole family together at Christmas, but some years it’s just not possible. Family members could be on a gap year, living at the opposite end of the country or stranded by snowdrifts, if they’re really unlucky.

But as long as your loved ones are within reach of an internet connection, you can stay in touch with them worldwide – including face to face. Here’s how:




This free messaging app for your smartphone or tablet lets you and your friends or family message as well as call each other over the internet.

The genius feature of WhatsApp is Group Chat, and it’s really useful in the run-up to Christmas when you’ve got parties to plan and big joint presents to buy.

You can chat with up to 100 people in a single group, and create different groups for different things. So, you could create the group ‘Mum’s Pressie’ and message everyone who’s contributing – excluding Mum. No more whispering on the phone – she’ll never guess.

You may find WhatsApp so indispensible that you’ll want to use it on a bigger screen. It’s even easier to use on an 8” tablet, and available for both Android and iOS. Use it to WhatsApp greetings on Christmas morning.

Check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8”

Check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7”




This lets you make video and audio calls to other Skype users free over the internet, wherever they are in the world, on all devices. You can see your loved one, and lots of background too, so it’s great for getting a sense of place.

Skype Sara in Costa Rica and see for yourself the rainforest eco-café where she’s having Christmas dinner. She can watch Auntie Julie singing ‘Walking In The Air’ like she does every year, and feel homesick. Or not.

Skype isn’t just face-to-face chatting – you can send photos and files while you’re on a Skype video call. Swap photos of that zip-lining adventure in the Monteverde cloud forest with pics of your new kitten – on the same call.

You can even Skype your teenage son on Xbox One. Developed to connect people thousands of miles apart, Skype is ideal for summoning him down from his bedroom for Christmas dinner. He can even still carry on playing while you’re talking to him, though hopefully not at the Christmas dinner table.

To get the very best from Skype at Christmas:

  • use it on a bigger screen so all the family can gather round
  • choose a laptop or 2 in 1 for portability
  • prop it up on the dinner table so everyone can see

For a more portable experience, try a powerful tablet which you can use to Skype anywhere around the house, just in case you can’t persuade your teenager to come out of his room after all.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 12" - 64GB for instance is light-weight enough to carry around your home, Skyping as you go. It also lets you:

  • Skype for hours – up to 9 hours of battery life
  • multitask as you Skype – run up to 4 apps on screen at the same time
  • take quality pictures with your webcam – 5 MegaPixel resolution  

Check out the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 12" - 64GB 2 in 1  

Or if you fancy playing a prank on your far-away loved one at Christmas you could pretend you’re also on the beach when you Skype, when really you’re in chilly Blighty. How? With the Intel® RealSense™ camera which comes built into the new Lenovo IdeaCentre 700 PC. You can remove your video chat background altogether with this sophisticated webcam which senses depth, then customise it with your own image of choice. Hours of fun.

Check out the Lenovo IdeaCentre 700




If you and your friends and family are Apple devotees, you can use FaceTime to keep in touch this Christmas on your iPad, iPad mini, iPhone, iPod touch and Mac with a built-in FaceTime camera.

Like Skype, you’ll be able to see your loved ones and where they are while you’re chatting - you can rotate your device for portrait or landscape view.

There’s no call limit as long as you have sufficient Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connection, so you could play proper Scrabble with Grandad all Christmas afternoon. Younger gamers can play online multiplayer games and simultaneously FaceTime.

It’s fun to FaceTime gathered round a larger, portable Mac screen, and it’s just as good on the go. Take your iPhone or HD iPad mini with you this Christmas to stay connected.

FaceTime is great on both the Apple iPad mini 4  and the Apple MacBook Air 13.3"