With Google's rollout Wednesday to Gmail, the built-in Google Talk chat app is finally getting its own voice. Specifically, a plugin that lets you surface a dial pad so you can launch VoIP calls from the Gmail.com in-box, or from within iGoogle. The big caveat is that the service is currently being rolled out only to U.S. Gmail users.
We've been expecting something like this to happen since Google snapped up VoIP company Gizmo 5 last November, and there's even been speculation that this could have been a desktop app. But no, on Tuesday we discovered the online feature in-house and on Wednesday, Google made the VoIP news official. We buckled down to review the new service as soon as we got our online update.
Calling from Gmail
We tested the Google Talk VoIP capabilities on a Windows desktop, a Windows laptop, and a Mac laptop. You'll see the "Call phone" button in the Google Talk sidebar just under your name and status bar. In some cases, clicking to activate Google Talk's VoIP service will prompt you to install the Google Talk voice and video plugin before you can begin dialing. The plugin is requisite, but you may have already done so to try out video calls, an existing feature.
It may go without saying, but we'll say it anyway--you will need to have a microphone handy, either in the computer itself, or in a headset, in order to hear your caller from your computer.
The VoIP interface itself is plain, in typical Google fashion, with just a dial pad on the bottom right of the screen. One extra tab shows your call history. Making outbound calls is straightforward--just type the digits. Since the new VoIP chat feature is integrated with your Google address book, you can also type a contact's name to get their number to appear; then call, call away.
We were pleased with the call quality, overall, which we tested with other U.S. callers using landlines and mobile phones. Calls were loud and mostly clear, however, there were a few moments of garbled voices on multiple calls. There was also sometimes a noticeably persistent high buzz, but it did not distract from the meat of the call. The experience was about on par for VoIP calls, which are known to break up due to variable conditions with the callers' hardware, strength of Internet connection, and the telecommunications channels that process the voice data.… Read more