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Google adds phone calling to Gmail

Google's Gmail isn't just a mailbox -- it now doubles as a phone. Users of Google's Web e-mail service can now call any phone in the U.S. or Canada for free (and make international calls for almost free) from within their browser.


Google announced this feature in a blog post a few minutes ago. It seems to be built off the voice and video chat feature Google added two years ago, as it requires installing a new version of its chat plug-in, available for Windows XP or newer, Mac OS X 10.4 or newer and some versions of Linux.

(Note that this plug-in will also install a Google software-update utility in the background, which would unnerve me more if Google hadn't released that tool's code under an open-source license last year.)

I couldn't needed a couple of tries to get this plug-in to work in Apple's Safari browser on a Mac, while in the Mac, Windows and Ubuntu Linux versions of Firefox, it worked as advertised right away, allowing me to call my work voicemail, my work phone and two cellphones. The audio quality sounded fine -- as I'd hope on a Fios connection with more than enough bandwidth for voice calling.

While it's already being described as "Google Voice integrated into Gmail," the new calling feature doesn't require an account on Google's separate calling service (only opened to the public a couple of months ago). A voice account will, however, let you answer incoming calls from within Gmail.

If you have a Gmail account, give this service a try yourself and let me know in the comments how it works for you.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 25, 2010; 1:28 PM ET
Categories:  E-mail , Mobile , Telecom  
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Not to be too stupid, but for voice calls, your computer needs a mic, right?

Posted by: patchss | August 25, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Yes, you would need a mic. They are inexpensive and most laptops have one built in.

Posted by: pjohn2 | August 25, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I have been using it for around two years. So why is this news?

No, you don't need a mic on your computer. Google calls your phone first, then connects you to the number you are calling.

Posted by: Delongl | August 25, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Delongl, I think this is something new because now it is a computer-to-phone call, instead of a phone-to-phone (routed through Google Voice) call.

Posted by: UberJason | August 25, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Meh, there has already been a Google Voice extension for Chrome that allows you to call any number you see online with 1-2 clicks, not just ones in Gmail.

Posted by: Corn_Laden | August 25, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Well ... Nice idea, but I tried it twice, did not connect, and had to deal with a frozen computer BOTH times (Using Vista Home Premium and Firefox 3.6.8 with an actual GMail account, for whatever that's worth).

Posted by: EFudd3 | August 25, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse


If your computer doesn't have a microphone built in, you need to buy a headset with microphone capabilities.

This will be a set of headphones that also has a microphone (usually a fold-down affair from one side of the headset). The end will have two prongs - one that goes into your input jack (for voice), one that goes into output (for listening). The former usually has a little icon that looks like an old-fashioned microphone; the latter usually looks like a set of headphones.

They come in varying prices and quality. Unless you are dedicated to VoIP technology, start basic and recognize that a better headset will frequently give you better voice reception and transmission.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | August 25, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

@corn-laden, that extension still requires you to use some type of phone to connect to call via google voice, with this it looks like you will have a Skype like connection, PC - Phone (Landline/Cell) at no cost! Skype is either 2.1 cents plus connection charge or a subscription

@robpegoraro, Have tried to install the required Google Chat plug-in, but I am still not seeing the feature in my gmail on IE, Firefox or Chrome. Perhaps you're one of the few lucky ones to get first crack at this feature?


Posted by: bwparker1 | August 25, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

I was frustrated that I did not see the new feature after installing the software, but then I noticed Google says "We’re rolling out this feature to U.S. based Gmail users over the next few days, so you’ll be ready to get started once “Call Phones” shows up in your chat list ..." at . Ah, patience!

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Posted by: shoestrade23 | August 25, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

One point about Macs: the plug-in requires Intel processor. It won't work with older computers.

Posted by: rashomon | August 26, 2010 12:24 AM | Report abuse

More strange news about Lexmark and its recent acquisition of Perceptive Software:

Posted by: freighter | August 26, 2010 3:06 AM | Report abuse

First install did not work. Second one did. Tried it out. Fantastic. No delays or broken transmissions. This is the end of the MagicJack. So convenient to use with auto dial from contacts. Google rocks.

Posted by: wovose | August 26, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Saw the release on this, downloaded plugin, installed, restarted Chrome, and it worked great - that's why I love Google. Got some nice Picasa updates this week also. Google: keep the features coming.

Posted by: link390 | August 26, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

tried it with 5 different landlines--got the little lady's voice, "We are not able to make your call." no other explanations available I quess......(on an imac; snow leopard) a bust so far.....

Posted by: dburger | August 26, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

I wonder how this will impact Skype. I already use Skype, and I don't see any reason to switch to Google.

Posted by: nuzuw | August 26, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

will this work on an ipad?

Posted by: wesatch | August 26, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

It took a few tries but its working for me. This is another important step in the process of completely doing away with "phone calls" as we know them, which is good news. I think this service along with skypes app that runs on Iphones and Droid are two of the most innovative products in telecom. Hopefully, these services will force the phone companies to lower their fees!

Posted by: colonialdc | August 26, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

This is only free (at the moment) for continental US and Canada, I live in Puerto Rico and Google will charge $.02 per minute which is the same rate they have for Portugal. So I am not about to try it.

Posted by: leask | August 26, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Downloaded the plugin and watched Serge's video "explanation." He said click on the "Video and More" selection at the bottom of the Chat window. Isn't one on mine. Tried to call a friend (confirmed his phone no. on Skype) but like another commentator, got the little lady saying the call could not be completed.
I have all the audio/video stuff (Well, duh! Couldn't have talked with my friend via Skype otherwise!) and the signup panel shows everything working properly--everything, that is, except the feature!
Any ideas?

Posted by: gleatherwood | August 26, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

I am in Houston and just called 2 numbers in Baton Rouge, and two in Houston that worked great. The caller ID on the numbers I called showed my Google Voice number and the quality was good. I don't fully understand what is needed but it worked. I am using XP with MSIE 8.

Posted by: TexasGringo | August 26, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

One more note, before this, when I used Google voice I would call the number and my home phone would ring and I would pick up to complete the call. Now I am using my computer mic and speakers and don't need the home or cell phone.

Posted by: TexasGringo | August 26, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

This sounds pretty cool. Now I can call home while I travel overseas using my computer? I guess as long as my internet connection has enough bandwidth.

Posted by: fedssocr | August 26, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

their international rates are significantly cheaper than skype.

google says that US and Canada calls are free for 2010. Does that mean they will start charging next year?

Posted by: j762 | August 26, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

their international rates are significantly cheaper than skype.

google says that US and Canada calls are free for 2010. Does that mean they will start charging next year?

Posted by: j762 | August 26, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

After I read your article I planned to go to a big box electronics store to buy what I needed. But I first went to WMT and found a logictec headphone/mic combo for less than $20.I came home, installed google talk and plugged in the headset and phoned a friend.
It worked correctly right out of the box.
I run Win XP and had no trouble. Carol

Posted by: cnordengren | August 26, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

the blog post says calls "to US and Canada" numbers are free. Does that mean calls from outside the US to US and Canadian numbers are free? Or only calls within the US and Canada? Doesn't seem like the system would really know where you are calling from, just where you are calling to, right?

Posted by: fedssocr | August 26, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Google gmail phone is awesome! Greatest invention since the phone.

Posted by: teresagmason | August 26, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

What problem does this solve? I don't get it.

And why is everyone so eager to give Google the phone numbers of all their friends, acquaintances and business partners? Google is a data company, after all, and they will store, manipulate, and analyze all of that data, matching it up with everything else they have on you. The phone companies presumably could do that, but they are not data companies.

Why are people concerned about the government getting personal information? Government is far too inefficient to put everything together. Google may well be also, in the end, but if anyone can do it it's likely to be them.

Posted by: asdf2 | August 26, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

This google voice service works great. The only gap is that you can't yet receive an incoming call on your computer. Probably they will close that gap in the near future.

Posted by: Wap4 | August 26, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

FWIW, this is now working for me. One or two hickups calling from gmail to cell phones, where the phones ring in gmail, but actually never ring the phone, and I just get voicemail. Now it seems to be working well though, caller ID is showing my google voice number. Nice feature! - BWP

Posted by: bwparker1 | August 26, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Check out this strange story about that old music service Napster:

Posted by: freighter | August 27, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I tried it last night and it installed and worked great. Voices sounded strange, but I attribute that to using the built-in mike and speakers on my laptop. Neat little app and the price (for now anyway) is right, but for me it would be used very little I'm old-fashioned.

Posted by: ancientdude | August 27, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I am becoming more leery about the big G lately. Especially since their caving in on net neutrality and then Schmidt's comments about web anonymity.

Posted by: No_To_Torture | August 31, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Would like to hear from anyone who has used this feature with a VISTA operating system.

Posted by: bob000 | August 31, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I have used this application on XP, Vista, and Win7 computers, wirelessly connected to DSL lines and found the connections to be universally clear and uncomplicated. It's better than Skype because it's a duplex connection. I'm really impressed with the quality of the connection. However, one of my calls was dropped after 9 minutes of connection. I've not tested it yet for longer connections.

I use a prepaid cell phone for all my long distance calls and by using this application I don't use minutes for these long distance calls thus saving minutes.

Posted by: REGROSS | August 31, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

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