Google Expands Free Phone Calling To Any Phone From Gmail

Google has expanded its phone-calling capablities by allowing users to place calls directly from Gmail to any phone in North America and parts of Europe and Asia.

Previously, the company's Gmail voice and video chat required that both parties be at their computers and signed into Gmail.

"Given that most of us don't spend all day in front of our computers, we thought, 'wouldn't it be nice if you could call people directly on their phones?'" wrote Robin Schriebman, a Google software engineer, on the company's Gmail blog.

Calls to the U.S. and Canada will be free for at least the rest of the year, according to Google, while calls to the U.K., France, Germany, China, Japan and more, can be made for as little as 2 cents per minute, according to Google.

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"We worked hard to make these rates really cheap," Schriebman wrote.

A new "Call phone" button appears at the left of a user's Gmail screen, above the chat list. Users must first agree accept terms and download a voice plug-in to use. Then it's as simple as dialing a number.

"We've been testing this feature internally and have found it to be useful in a lot of situations, ranging from making a quick call to a restaurant, to placing a call when you're in an area with bad reception," Schriebman wrote.

Existing Google Voice customers will see that number appear as the outbound caller ID and users can receive calls made to this number inside Gmail, according to Google.