If you’re working from home and need to communicate with your team, a little video chatting goes a long way. While most laptops come with built-in webcams, desktops do not, and laptop cameras can break at any time.
You could go and purchase a new webcam, but if you don’t want to spend the money or won’t need it long-term, a bit of free software can help you out. If you’re willing to give it a try, you can turn your phone—or any spare smartphone—into a webcam for your PC.
For Android Phones: DroidCam
Android users can try a free app called DroidCam to turn it into a webcam. The free version has everything you need to get started, though a $5.49 upgrade to DroidCamX adds 720p/1080p video with HD Mode, plus it gets rid of the small banner ads. If you plan on using it a lot, it’s a worthy upgrade, but I felt the experience with the free version was pretty solid.
To get started, you’ll need two pieces of software: the DroidCam Android app from the Play Store and the Windows client from Dev47Apps. Once both are installed, make sure your computer and phone are on the same Wi-Fi network. The DroidCam Android app should have an IP address listed—something like 192.168.1.91—which you can enter in the desktop app to connect the two.
Be sure to check the Audio box if you don’t have a microphone on your PC. Click the Start button, and you should be connected. Most video chat apps should recognize DroidCam as a valid webcam, though you may need to restart them if they were running when DroidCam was installed. (Skype is an exception, which can be a bit finicky—you may need to use the old, non-Microsoft Store version.)
In my experience, DroidCam worked well enough. Friends on the other end said the SD video quality looked fine, but there may be a bit of a delay. Some had trouble with the audio coming from my phone, so my computer’s microphone was still ideal.
You can adjust a few things in the settings, like which camera to use (front or rear), which microphone to use (camera or speakerphone), and a few battery-saving features, but just know that it probably won’t be as good as a traditional webcam.
If you prefer to connect over USB rather than Wi-Fi, DroidCam can do that too, though it requires a little advanced finagling with some phone-specific drivers—you can refer to DroidCam’s instructions here. Even if you stick with Wi-Fi, though, you may want to charge your phone while video chatting, since it will drain the battery fairly quickly.
For iPhone Users: EpocCam
If you have an iPhone, EpocCam is the app I’d recommend for turning it into a webcam. However, the free version includes intrusive ads and very few features, almost necessitating the $7.99 paid upgrade. With the upgrade, you get microphone support, HD video, USB connections, and zoom/focus adjustments.
To use EpocCam, download the EpocCam app to your iPhone and download the drivers for Windows or macOS. You may need to restart your computer after installing the desktop software. Once you restart, you can launch the EpocCam Viewer app on your computer alongside the EpocCam app on your phone to see if it’s working.
As long as the two devices are on the same Wi-Fi network, or connected by USB, they should link without any extra steps. EpocCam should show up as a webcam for Zoom, Hangouts, or any other video chat application you might use.
In my testing, it worked as well as can be expected, despite the annoying full-screen ads and a watermark on your video, but if you’re not willing to upgrade, DroidCam may be the better option overall. Your mileage may vary, though.
If the above apps don’t quite meet your standards, or you’d rather not use third-party software, you could just use your phone without your PC. Most video conferencing apps, including Zoom, Skype, Hangouts, and others have mobile apps that you can be used to chat right from your phone. You won’t be able to see your friends or coworkers as easily on the small screen, but it’ll do the trick when you don’t need a PC. (If you have an iPad or Android tablet with a front-facing camera, all the better.)
If you like seeing people on a bigger screen, or you need to use screen sharing from your computer, here’s a nifty workaround: connect to the video conference using both your PC and your phone (again, using the mobile app for Zoom, Skype, or whatever app your compatriots require). You can use your phone to transmit your video, but use the PC to see and hear everyone else. As long as you have enough bandwidth to handle both chats at once, it’ll work in a pinch.
Whichever of these options you use, make sure you have a good way to stand your phone up, so you don’t have to hold your arm out for an hour. I used a flexible Gorillapod I already had, but just about any phone or tablet stand should work. You may just need to prop it up on some books to get it to eye level to avoid giving anyone an up-the-nose view.