Google Apps

No phone needed: Make calls from Gmail or Hangouts

If you use Gmail or Google+ Hangouts, you can call any U.S. or Canadian phone number for free. Andy Wolber shows you how.

There are lots of ways to connect with people these days: Skype, Google+ Hangouts, or Facetime. But the single most reliable method of having a real-time voice conversation continues to be a phone call.

The tools used to make phone calls in the United States changed over the past forty years. In the 1970s, nearly all calls required an AT&T handset. By the 1990s, you could purchase a variety of brands of bulky "wireless" handsets that had roughly the range of early WiFi access points. In the early 2000s, early adopters began to go "cellphone only", dropping landlines and switching to VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) providers. By 2007, Americans spent more on cellphone plans than "plain old telephone" services.

Place a call

Our reasons for not placing a call have changed, as well. Today, we deal with cell phone excuses, such as "my battery died" or "my cell signal is really weak at this hotel." Or the increasingly rare "I'm over the limit on my minutes this month." Luckily it's 2012: you can place the call from your computer.

If you use Gmail or Google+ Hangouts, you can call any U.S. or Canadian phone number for free. You need a computer, Internet access, a microphone, and speakers. Depending on your system and setup, you may need to install a plugin found at http://www.google.com/chat/voice/. (Calling to other countries is available, but incurs costs.)

Placing a call from your Gmail account takes just three steps:

1. Click the "Call Phone" icon in the Chat window displayed in Gmail.

Call a phone from Gmail chat

2. Type the 10-digit U.S. or Canadian number to call in the "Search or Dial" box.

Enter the 10-digit phone number

3. Click "Call".

Simple.

The barrier is getting users to make that very first call. I've found that after people make their first call from Gmail, they'll make another. To get people to use the feature, have folks place a call to a regular phone line during a training session. (Typically, I have people call my cellphone as a demonstration.)

Hangout

You can also include a phone-only user in a Google+ Hangout. Start your Hangout as usual, and add your Google+ participants. To add the phone-only user, click the "+telephone" option, and then enter their phone number. When you click "Hangout" they'll receive a phone call and will join the Hangout with an audio-only connection. Google+ obscures portions of their phone number, which is especially useful if you're doing a Hangout on Air.

Include a 'phone-only' user in a Google+ Hangout

If you'll be making a lot of phone calls from your computer, I suggest a headset. I recommend behind-the-ears models, which look slightly less nerdy than traditional above-the-head models. I prefer headsets that can plug in either with the two separate audio and microphone connections or with a single USB port. These types of headsets tend to work with a wide range of computer systems. Chromebook users can simply use a smartphone headset.

Google Voice

To receive incoming calls, you'll need to upgrade to a free Google Voice account. With a Google Voice account, you'll receive your own phone number. You can configure calls to that number to ring both in Google Chat and on your cellphone.

Upgrading to Google Voice lets you receive incoming calls

Gmail and Google Voice calling can be quite handy in a pinch. One nonprofit organization I worked with ran out of extensions on their conventional phone system. They simply couldn't afford the several thousand dollars necessary to upgrade. Instead, they configured a couple of Google Voice lines for carefully selected staff members. Those staff members used their computers and headsets to make and receive calls. No old-fashioned phone lines needed.

Also read:

About

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

12 comments
Tonydid
Tonydid

to have the usual paranoia here.....I'll be definitely giving this a use & jabber with my relations who have moved to US....why did they go there, I wonder.

yorkshirepudding
yorkshirepudding

I imagine this will go the way of Google Apps for Non Profits - hints that it might be done in the future but will never materialise.

LedLincoln
LedLincoln

I moved my landline to Google Voice about a year ago. It's now directed to my wife's and my cell phones. It's great to have Google screen out the robocalls. I do miss the audio quality of the landline. Question: Does anybody know if Google parses and stores our voice conversations as it does Gmail? They do this with the voicemail, obviously, but could conceivably be doing it with live conversations.

marshman99ca
marshman99ca

Is Google Voice available in Canada yet? Any time soon?

Rformisa
Rformisa

I have been using Google voice with an Obihai to replace my landline for over a year y also use it to call my friends and family overseas, works perfect and the international rates are cheap. If you want you can go to Amazon and read the reviews of the Obihai and see that people love it.

DAvenger
DAvenger

I've been using Google Voice for over a year now, for both incoming and outgoing phone calls. Really works well most of the time. You can even set it up to ring at multiple numbers simultaneously if you want to take calls while you're away from your PC. I guess they haven't started charging for it because it's certainly not 100% reliable, and the taxes they would have to collect for our suppressive government would be more than the phone service costs. I have dropped calls once or twice a week on average, and I don't think they support Emergency 911 calls, which I think is mandated in order to provide paid-for service (another suppressive government mandate).

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you placed calls to a "plain old telephone system" number from your Gmail account? How are you using Google Voice in your daily work?

DimBulb
DimBulb

when you call 911 and need your "suppressive' government to bail your butt out.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

When they want you to be able to get emergency numbers over any Paid For Phone Service? I would have thought that it was necessary and required myself but then again what would I know? Col

DAvenger
DAvenger

I should have the "option", and not be "forced" to pay for something I don't want. If I have other phones that support 911, why should I be forced to pay for it on another line? Kind of like Obamacare. If I don't want it, why should I have to pay for it?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Take for example 9 11 when the Towers fell the Land Lines in the area stopped working and all telecommunications where handled by the Cell network for the Public at least. When you insist on relying on any 1 technology it's going to fail and leave you in a position that is at best extremely uncomfortable. Why not make it mandatory to have this available it's called a Fail Safe or Fall back Position. Also exactly how are you paying for it this is supposed to work with a Pay as you Go and no credit so you can make Emergency Phone calls with nothing more than an old Cell Phone with some sort of charge and a valid SIM Card, Even the last bit is highly debatable too. You just need something recognized by the network. Freedom is actually the ability to do as you like and still have your A$$ Covered by the Organization that is in place to protect you. If your argument held any water you should be able to chose not to pay taxes to support a Large Unwieldy Military who you do not want to be there to protect you. Doesn't matter that everyone else would want to do the same thing and save their money to waste on themselves till the incident that attacked them came and they then demanded that they be protected from that Incoming ICBM. Sorry but you can not have it both ways you either settle for the Regulations set out by the Authority in a Country who is there for the benefit of the citizens of you move to a different country where there are no protections. If you insist on not paying for a Military may I suggest the West Bank? You'll just need to learn to dodge incoming missiles. Currently not may have learned how to do this though. :) Col