If you have a Gmail account you may already have access to the service. If so, all you need to do is install a single plugin (for Windows, Mac or Linux) and you’re ready to make free phones calls the US and Canada, plus cheap calls to other countries.
It’s all powered by Google Voice, the amazing phone service from Google that combines all of your phone numbers into one.
Find The Service
Fire up your Gmail account to get started. Enable chat, if you don’t usually keep it on. You’ll find chat in the left-hand bar, below your various labels. Once you’ve enabled chat, you should see a button like this:
Go ahead and click that to get started. You may be told to download the voice and video chat plugin for Gmail. Do so; it’s easy to do on Linux, Mac and Windows.
Once you’ve got your plugin installed, you’re ready to get started with the Gmail phone service, although you may need to restart your browser first.
Dial & Smile
Now all you need to do is dial a number to call it! If you’ve used Gmail’s voice chat function before everything should be familar to you. If not, it’s easy to get used to.
Are you already an avid user of Google Voice, or even just Google’s contact management system? You’ll be happy to note that your contacts are implemented in this service. Start typing someone’s name or number and they’ll quickly pop up, the same way your contacts do when you’re composing an email.
Naturally, you might have some troubles with call quality. Your computer might not have a microphone, for example, which would impact the quality of calls profoundly. Check out my guide on increasing your VOIP call quality for more information.
MakeUseOf testers also experienced a few dropped calls while attempting to use the service internationally. Still, it’s worth a shot!
Don’t Have It Yet?
You might not have access to the Gmail phone service yet, as Google is releasing it in waves (though most of my friends seem to have it.) You’ll have it soon enough, so don’t panic! It also isn’t quite integrated for Google Apps on Your Domain clients, though Google says it will be shortly.
If you live outside North America you can use this service; you need only to set your default language to “US English” in Gmail’s settings. You’ll have to pay to call people in your country however; only calls to North America are free.
It certainly is interesting to see Google Voice enter the VoIP market after years of speculation. Free calls anywhere in North America is even cheaper than my $30 per year Skype account, which I didn’t think anybody could ever beat. Naturally there are rumors that Google will start charging for the service within a few years, but I’m sure they’ll be competitive to Skype’s pricing.
I hope, however, that the service is never remotely similar to The Onion’s recent parody:
I doubt it will come to that, but it brings to mind a serious question: do you want Google involved in your phone life? Moreover, are you disappointed the service only offers free calls to the US and Canada, meaning users from other countries may have to pay to make local calls? Can you see yourself using this service, or will you stick with Skype or other alternatives? Let us know in the comments below!