On Wednesday, Google added a new calling feature to Gmail which allows users to dial phone numbers. I have been using their Gmail voice and video chat feature for nearly two years. That feature gives users an audio and visual experience online. Google is now competing with Skype, which has dominated the Internet phone service marketplace for nearly seven years.

Google - Call phones from Gmail - Voice and Video Chat

Google – Call phones from Gmail – Voice and Video Chat

If you already have Google Voice, you can take advantage of features within the Gmail context, such as the ability to record phone calls, listen to users leaving a voice mail, or have incoming calls "ring" both a separate phone as well as the browser. You must download a small plug in for either Linux, Safari, or Windows. This will add echo cancellation which was jointly developed by Global IP Solutions, Vidyo, and Google staff in Sweden and in their California headquarters.

Google’s attempt to integrate the ability to dial a phone number from Gmail shows this is clearly a version one offering. You would think integrating this new feature into your Gmail Contacts would be seamless. It is, but only partially, and with some very odd left-turns. After you make your choice in Contacts of who to call, you are not sure if the landline dial out feature is an extension of Chat. When you click on the Google Chat icon, even the "video and more" drop down menu doesn’t bring up the "call phone" option. Instead, you have to click "Chat," and then a small icon allows you to initiate a voice call, unlike Skype which makes the voice call, video or text choices very obvious.

Things get very confusing when your contact has multiple phone numbers, such as home, work, mobile. Although your default list of contacts displays their email address, physical address, and phone number, the Contact Manager only includes an "Email" button. Instead of displaying the phone numbers with the title, you are staring at the digits of the phone number only, with no description.

This is a big problem if Google plans to have business users come on board. Google’s Android doesn’t have this sort of confusion. We asked a corporate user who has over 3,000 laptops about the new offering. He said their corporate firewall was blocking the download. He also said they carefully configure their laptops because "Google is very snoopy, they pass along way too much information about everything as far as our IT security managers are concerned.?

Given the size of this company and their business relationship with Google, those worries are troublesome indeed.

As far as the call quality of Google Voice calls from inside Gmail, it was as acceptable as any other VoIP application ? sometimes it was as good as a direct land line connection. Other times there was buzzing and fading in and out.

Looking at the pros and cons of the new Google Voice feature, implementing it is iffy, the voice quality is average, but the pricing is good. Google has some very competitive pricing when directly compared to Skype.

Google rate comparision to Skype
Google rate comparison to Skype

The free local calls for Canada and the US along with low-price international calls will be attractive to users who can easily launch a voice call from within Gmail. It is too early to say whether Google will take a significant chunk of Skype’s customer base. We will continue comparing the two applications and report back.