Gmail Adds Ability to Call Phones

Last month Google started a new Gmail feature called “Call Phones”. While you could previously use Google Chat to chat with online friends while using Gmail, this new feature allows Gmail users to call phones right from their email account. What a great idea! Not everyone is always online. So when you are checking your email and you want to discuss something in further detail, you can now reach your friends whether they are online or not.

You simply click on the “Call Phone” link that appears on the left side of the screen and Google will immediately place the call. Calls to anyone in the United States and Canada are currently free. This includes calls to landlines and cell phones. Calls to other countries are cheap, as little as 2 cents a minute for many. Check the Google Voice website (https://www.google.com/voice/rates) for rates. The new service even includes computer-to-computer video calls.

Gmail users took to this new feature by the droves.  In the first week, they made more than 10 million calls using the new Call Phones Gmail feature. I was among the new users. I couldn’t wait to try out this new free service.  Every landline, cell phone call, and International call that I made was crisp and clear. Like Skype, there was a slight delay on International video calls. I made some calls with Skype and immediately followed them up by making the same call with Gmail. I would have to do a larger sampling from various Internet connections to give call this a real test, but in my limited testing, the Gmail calls were equal to or slightly better than the Skype calls.

With Skype you get free computer-to-computer calling but have to pay a fee for calling land lines or cell phones. With Gmail even these calls are free. However, Google has only promised free calls for the rest of this year. After that, they may be charging for some or all of the calls.

If you already have a Gmail account, you can try out this new service right from your Gmail screen. If you don’t yet have a Gmail account, sign up for one at www.google.com/gmail. Once you install and open Gmail, you just click on the “Call Phone” link. You will be prompted to download the Google voice and video plug-in. Then a window with a dialer keypad will appear. Place the call by typing the names of a contact in your Google contact list or by entering a number clicking “Call”.

Of course, you must have a microphone on your computer to take advantage of this free calling. If you don’t have one, you can purchase one for just a few dollars or you can invest a little more and get a web cam that will sit on top of your monitor and act as both a camera and a microphone.

The Gmail calling feature works just as it is. But it can be augmented by another Google free service called Google Voice. If you have a free Google Voice account, you can also get incoming calls through Gmail. Once you set up Google Voice, you can have calls to your Google number, which they give you at no added cost, forwarded to your cell phone or other lines as well. To use Google Voice with Gmail you will have to click on the Settings in Google Voice and put a check mark in the box next to Google Chat in the list of forwarding phones.

Using Google Voice in conjunction with Gmail will also give you access to even more features such as call screening. With this you can send a caller to voicemail and listen while they leave you a message. You can click “Join” at any time to pick up the call.

With Google Voice, you can also get several other perks. Your voice mails can be turned into text and sent to you as email. You can record incoming calls. You can switch from a call that you took or placed while in Gmail to any phone that you have listed as a forwarding number in Google Voice. So you can start a conversation on your computer, but finish it on your cell phone. If you use the Google Chrome web browser, you can click on any telephone number you find online and have Google dial it for you. Google is constantly adding new features, so you can expect Gmail Calling and Google Voice to just keep getting better and better.

I only found two caveats when using Gmail to make phone calls. The first one is that the calling window comes up in the extreme lower right of the screen and may be obscured by other windows. The other is that your microphone may not be automatically recognized by Gmail. If that is the case, click on Settings, choose the Chat tab, and then choose the proper microphone.

Google’s free calling may not be around forever, so if you want to try it out, do it now. In today’s economy, any way we can cut costs is more than welcome.

2 Comments

CJHyett 09-09-2010, 12:01

Thanks Sandy,

Does this work on laptops, I have found that other video chat vehicles are not supported by the low strength of the band on my laptop?

C

Videochat 10-12-2010, 13:38

Innkeeper: The room is $15. a night. It’s $5. if you make your own bed.Guest: I’ll make my own bed. Innkeeper: Good. I’ll get you some nails and wood.

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