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New tech lets you stay connected far from home

Jan. 5, 2012 - 11:32AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 5, 2012 - 11:32AM  |  
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If you're already feeling homesick after holiday leave — or only made it home for Christmas in your dreams — you can find plenty of new ways to reconnect with friends and family even while stuck in far-flung places.

Sure, there's always AIM, Facebook Chat and Skype, but those may not deliver exactly what you want. Some of the newest ways to keep connected to those who matter most:

PlayUp

Connecticut Army National Guard 2nd Lt. Nick Barillaro, a medical services officer with the 118th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, is a die-hard New York Giants fan. But when he was cut off from TV during three weeks of field training in central Texas just as the season was kicking off this fall, he tapped into this free app that streams scores and hosts chat rooms for each game. "Back home I was always at a bar with a bunch of buddies on a Sunday or Monday night watching the game, but being away I was still able to keep up with them in the chat rooms," Barillaro says. "It's a great way to keep connected."

Big Live

Watch everything from live concerts to The Lonely Island's "Best Of" playlist while chatting with old friends or making new ones. With channels for sports and news to TV and movies, it's like your own online living room. Didn't meet your "Miracle on 34th Street" quota with the fam this year? They got that. Or maybe you and the boys would rather watch hot models at the latest Paris fashion show? Naw.

Givit

Rather not post videos on YouTube for all the world to see? Half-a-world-away time zone difference making it hard to link up on Skype? Givit, a new iOS app (coming soon to Android) provides an easy way to make, edit and send private video messages straight from your smartphone. "This would have been huge when I got activated," says former Navy corpsman Ben Power, now a programmer for Givit. He was stuck burning his songs to CDs for his new bride while deployed shortly after 9/11.

Google Hangouts

Built into Google+, the search engine giant's answer to Facebook and Skype, Hangouts allows anyone to open a video chat room for up to 10 people. You can also join — but not start — a Hangout from your smartphone. Hangouts is also great for playing long-distance games together.

Fring

Another Skype alternative, it provides up to four-way video calling available over Wi-Fi and 3G for free as well as regular voice over Internet Protocol calls on both iOS and Android devices.

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