Google has launched a new feature that allows you to make free calls from your PC using Gmail.  It’s built into their existing “Google Chat”, which recently added voice and video pc-to-pc calling.  Now it also includes a “Call Phone” link which opens a phone keypad window that you can use to make calls (plug-in download required).   You can simply dial a number, or choose from suggestions it finds in your address book as you type a number or name.  According to the announcement in their Gmail blog post, calls to the U.S. and Canada are “free for at least the rest of the year” and minimal rates to overseas.

What’s even better is that this feature will work with your Google Voice account if you have one (now available to the public). Your Google Voice phone number will display as the outgoing Caller ID, and you can receive calls in Gmail (and even screen them) by activating Google Chat in your list of phones in your Google Voice settings.  So, what is the added benefit?  If you haven’t figured it out yet – it’s a free phone line.

While Google Voice provides voicemail, call routing, custom voice messages, and other nifty features, you have always needed your own land-line phone or cellphone to use them.  This new calling feature in Gmail essentially provides you with an extra phone line that you can use at home, work, or when traveling.  It can be very handy if a land-line is unavailable, if you don’t want to use your cellphone minutes, or if you simply can’t get good cellphone reception.  And it’s a perfect solution for those entrepreneurs running their small businesses out of Starbucks (rent=1 cafe latte, phone=$0).

The only catch is call quality.  My trial run had a bit of static, but I don’t know how much of that was hardware related.  A good headset may yield better results.  The quality and strength of your internet connection will also be critical.

While Google is not the first to offer PC-based calling, it is the first that I’m aware of to offer it for free (to the U.S. and Canada, at least for now).  And when it’s used in combination with the other Google services such as Gmail, Google Contacts, and Google Voice, its a very compelling feature.  The service is being rolled out gradually to Gmail users, so it won’t show up for everyone immediately.

Have you tried making calls in Gmail?  What do you think?

Be Sociable, Share!