How to Use Gmail to Call the World
A little-known Gmail feature made headlines this week when Google announced it added hundreds of countries to its in-mail calling feature and lowered international per minute call rates.
"Calling from Gmail," Google's official name for the feature, is indicated by a green phone icon in the chat section of the Gmail interface. Gmail calling was added to the free email service about a year ago, and while 1 million calls were made in a 24-hour period following its launch, it has remained a largely unnoticed feature by many of Gmail's 200 million users.
It could be because Gmail's new service is a lot like Skype a competing voice-over-Internet calling service. Gmail's service lets Gmail users make free calls to the U.S. and Canada and inexpensive calls to phones in other countries right from their Gmail inboxes. Gmail calling can be used to call both mobile phone and landlines.
International Gmail calling
This week's update added 38 new languages, including Portuguese, Turkish, Vietnamese and Serbian. Google also lowered its Gmail calling rates to 150 destinations. On its new rate page, Google has posted a comparison between its new international rates and those of its leading competitor. While not named, the rates coincide with Skype's posted rates. Gmail calling rates are about half those of Skype.
Callers can purchase calling credits using U.S. dollars, Canadian dollars, British pounds or euros. Gmail calling could be especially useful to travelers abroad. As long as a Wi-Fi connection is available, people can call back to the States for a penny a minute.
Sign into Gmail. Look for "Call phone" and its green handset icon in the navigation column on the left side of the screen. Click it and a window will open to install the Google Voice and Chat plug-in. As long as the computer is running Windows XP, Vista and W7 or Mac OS X versions 10.4 and later, it will work. Installation takes a minute or less.
Accept the terms and return to Gmail. Click on "Call phone" and a small dial pad about the size of a calculator will open in the lower-right corner of the screen.
Type in a 10-digit number, consisting of the area code and phone number, and press the blue "Call" button. A typical ring sound will be made during the connection process.
More new Gmail calling features
Google added another familiar phone feature last month: the ability to handle multiple calls. For example, if a user is on a call and a second one is made, the first call will be put on hold while the user talks on the second call.
It’s easy to switch between calls by pressing the “Resume” button on one of the calls. This will put the previous call on hold.
If another call comes in while on the phone, answering the new call will automatically put the first caller on hold.
Tip: Google's default number (760) 705-8888 will show as the incoming number on the receiver's phone. Gmail callers may want to let their friends know they'll be using Google's 760 number, so they'll answer the call.
Alternately, Google calling can be integrated with a Google Voice number. Google Voice is a service designed to manage multiple phone numbers under one master number.
Time may be running out for free calls. Google has said that phone calls within the U.S. and Canada will remain free at least until the end of 2011.