Make Phone Calls Directly from Gmail

It’s now possible to make and receive phone calls to the U.S. and Canada at no charge directly from Gmail’s web interface. I’ve been testing the new service, and so far, I’m very happy with it.

As always, Google is rolling out the new service gradually. It hasn’t become active on all of my Gmail accounts yet. Also, Google says that it will be available for Google Apps, but doesn’t specify a timeline.

So you’ll want to log into your Gmail account and see if there’s a new option that says “Call Phone.” It will appear under Chat in the navigation menu on the left. If you see this option, your account is ready for phoning!

It’s pretty simple to set up. You’ll need to:

  • Install the voice and video plugin, which is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
  • Select a Google Voice phone number. If you don’t already have one, you’ll be prompted to do this. Numbers are available only in the continental U.S., but you can select many different area codes and locations.
  • If you want to receive incoming calls in the Gmail web interface, you’ll also need to go to the “Phones” tab of your Google Voice settings and check the option to forward calls to Google Chat.

Once you’ve finished the setup, just click the “Call Phone” link and a dialer will be displayed. You can search through your contacts, or enter a number directly.

I’ve made some calls using the internal speakers and microphone of my 13 inch Mac Pro, while connected via a wireless network to a cable connection that generally offers download speeds of 15-20 Mb/s. Sound quality on both ends of the calls was surprisingly good, with just a tiny bit of the delay that seems endemic to VoIP services.

Calls to the U.S. and Canada are currently free, and international calls are billed at the usual Google Voice rates.

If you spend a lot of time in the Gmail web interface, you’ll probably find this new service very useful.

Do you use Google Voice?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Enabling the Web Work Revolution

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