While we’re all practicing social distancing and spending more time alone to combat the spread of COVID-19, digital hangout solutions are going to become more important to our interactions than ever before. FaceTime and phone calls can only go so far, though, and Zoom reminds us too much of work. What if you and a friend want to watch Netflix together, or binge your way through RuPaul's Drag Race on Hulu? Or listen to the new Lady Gaga album when it drops next month?
A quick Google search turns up plenty of options — but parsing which is best for your situation can be time-consuming and frustrating. So we did the heavy lifting for you. Check out our guide to the best co-streaming services available for any situation.
For watching just about anything together: Kast
Kast is relatively new to the scene, but it’s the most versatile distance-streaming option you’ll find. You and your friends will need to dedicate a few minutes to app set-up, but once you’ve done so you’ll never need to again. Just create a “party” and invite your friends to join. Anyone in the party can then choose a broadcast option: webcam video, a Netflix or Hulu window, or even a movie you rented. Kast will stream any of your windows to the party, which means you can stream games, too. While the video plays you can chat via microphone or text chat — all in the same window.
Download Kast here. Available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.
For watching YouTube with minimal setup: TwoSeven
TwoSeven is not the prettiest application on this list, but it’s probably the easiest to use. Just create a login, invite a friend or two, and paste a YouTube URL to stream. TwoSeven gives you the option of using text-based chat or connecting your mic and webcam to hang out while you watch your music videos and Bon Appetit series.
TwoSeven’s team updates the app consistently, which isn’t something I can say for every minimalist option out there. If you really enjoy using it, there’s also a TwoSeven Chrome extension that can be used to watch Netflix, HBO, Amazon, or Vimeo with other people.
For streaming music together: JQBX
If you and your friend both have Spotify Premium, it doesn’t get much better than JQBX (that’s pronounced like “jukebox,” by the way.) JQBX operates via “rooms” that anyone can join with a link. Each person in the room has the option to play DJ and create a queue — and then JQBX takes care of the rest. You’ll each hear the same song at the same time, give or take a second of lag. JQBX even syncs with your existing Spotify playlists.
JQBX is web-based (with a mobile app), so it’s compatible with just about any operating system you can think of. You can even stream it through your smart speakers. There’s also built-in chat functionality. You can favorite a room and jump back in with your friends at any time.
If all else fails: split-screen all the way
Maybe none of these apps are working for you today — take a few long breaths and open your favorite calling app. (Just not FaceTime, which turns the volume down on any other applications you're using). Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts are two reliable, accessible options. Turn on your webcam, if you want. Open a second browser window with your video; re-size it to fit half or three-quarters of the screen. Once you and your friend are ready, count down from three and hit play. It's not perfect, but it works in a cinch.
No one's quite sure how long we'll be hunkering down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the White House isn't being especially reassuring. So maybe it's time to binge The West Wing again, with or without our besties, because its cliffhangers are far better for our anxiety levels than those real-life politics is serving up right now.