Voice Calls from Gmail is completely free in the U.S. and Canada. You can call any landline or mobile phone in these countries from your computer, though Gmail charges for international calls. Reviewers like the advanced features you can get by signing up for a free Google Voice number, which will ring on all of your phones at once and even transcribe your voice mails and text or email them to you for free.
Mixed reviews. Although reviewers at The New York Times and Laptop Magazine get nice, clear connections, CNET reports some garbling and buzzing with Gmail calls. CNET editors say a Skype connection is clearer and more reliable than a Gmail call -- which isn't saying much, as Skype gets poor marks for both clarity and reliability in one major consumer survey.
Good for domestic calls. If you don't call internationally, reviews say Google's free Voice Calls from Gmail feature is worth a try. Unlike Skype, Gmail's free calls are limited to U.S. and Canada numbers -- but that includes all landline and mobile phones (Skype calls are free only to Skype-equipped mobile phones and computers). To receive incoming calls, you'll need a Google Voice number, also free. International rates range from 2 cents per minute to the U.K. to nearly $1 per minute to Cuba. Google has announced that Gmail Calling will remain free throughout 2013, though they make no promises regarding what will happen after that.
Works with Google Voice. Voice Calls from Gmail allows you to call your Gmail contacts from within Gmail, and you can get a free Google Voice phone number that will ring on all of your phones (including your Gmail) and consolidate all of your voice mail, too. Google will also transcribe your voice mails for free and then email or text them to you, but testers say the voice mail transcription often garbles the messages. Like Skype, you cannot call 911, plus you cannot place a VoIP call from Gmail on a mobile phone, only on your computer, for now. A free plug-in for video chat is available. Free video chats are also available in Google Hangouts.
Voice Calls from Gmail beats Skype in this head-to-head comparison. It wins in all categories -- features, apps and interface, device compatibility and cost -- although testers say Skype is still the better international option.
Review: Prizefight: Google Voice vs. Skype, Editors of CNET, Sept. 14, 2010
This article highlights that Gmail's voice calling service is trimming its calling rates to more than 150 countries, and is now available in 38 languages for those who use Gmail outside the U.S. Whitney states that Gmail Voice calling is a viable alternative to Skype.
Review: Gmail Voice Calling Offering Lower International Rates, Lance Whitney, Aug. 27, 2010
Jessica Dolcourt says Google Voice's mobile apps haven't lived up to their potential. Despite its "ton of features," including call forwarding and free texts to the U.S. and Canada, Google Voice on mobile phones experiences messaging delays and lack of MMS support. She also states that the Android app doesn't have the "terrific" interface of the app for the iPhone.
Review: Why I'm Still Frustrated with Google Voice, Jessica Dolcourt , Mar. 27, 2012
Damon Poeter says Google will continue its free Google Voice calls in the U.S. and Canada throughout 2013. Callers in some other countries will be able to make heavily discounted international calls, though Google does add local tariffs and taxes to these costs.
Review: Google Voice Calls Remain Free in 2013, Damon Poeter, Dec. 26, 2012
When Mark Hachman tests Voice Calls from Gmail, one call refused to connect and another has poor sound quality. He says the feature "remains a curiosity" and that it can't replace a regular phone.
Review: Hands On: Google Voice Calls via Gmail, Mark Hachman, Aug. 25, 2010
6. The New York Times
This blog post does a great job explaining what you can and cannot do with Google's Voice Calls from Gmail feature. You can't call 911; you can't call free outside of the U.S. or Canada, and you can't call from a mobile phone -- but you can start a call on your computer and then transfer it to your mobile phone.
Review: Six Things Google's Free Phone Service Can't Do (and One It Does Very Well), Paul Boutin, Aug. 27, 2010
7. The New York Times
Voice Calls from Gmail are clear -- even on regular laptop speakers and microphones -- and easy to use, David Pogue says. He says it will be particularly exciting if this feature is ever offered on smartphones.
Review: Google Shakes It Up Again With Free Phone Calls, David Pogue, Aug. 26, 2010
8. Laptop Magazine
Eric Chiu explains how Gmail calling works and briefly tests it. Gmail's call quality is "consistently decent" and better than on an HTC Droid Incredible phone, Chiu says.
Review: Hands-On With Gmail VoIP: Gmail Adds the Kitchen Sink, Eric Chiu, Aug. 26, 2010
About.com's VoIP guide Nadeem Unuth highlights Gmail Voice Calling's ability to make free PC-to-PC calls and cheap calls to both mobile and landline phones. However, the service's full capabilities are available only to those in the U.S., and users need Gmail and Google Voice.
Review: Gmail Calling Review - Google International Calling, Nadeem Unuth, Not dated
In this review, About.com's guide to Google enthuses that the combination of Google Voice and its free Android app "has the potential to revolutionize the way you communicate." Having one phone number that "can follow you around the country" is a highlight of this service, as is sending and receiving text messages through this app.
Review: Google Voice for Android Application, Thomas Phelps, Not dated