I've been using Gmail's new free voice calling feature over the past couple of days. For a while, I thought that the Google Buzz blowup proved it was a bad idea to introduce non-e-mail features into Gmail, period. Now I now that if it's the right feature done the right way, it can make perfect sense.
- The quality-on the calls I've made so far, at least-is sensational, and seemingly so on both ends. I hear the other party just great, he or she hears me, and there's zero lag time. All using the microphone and speakers built into my MacBook, no headset required. It's like having a speakerphone, except I've never encountered a speakerphone that sounds this good.
- Making calls from within Gmail works well; receiving them has its complications. For one thing, you need to make sure that Gmail is open, and that it's in a tab you can get to quickly when your browser starts to ring. For another, if you mute your laptop's speakers and aren't in Gmail when a call comes in, there's no way to tell someone's trying to reach you. (I'd love to see Google release a bit of notification software that would get your attention even when you're in another app.)
- It would be nice to see more comprehensive integration of Gmail and Google Voice, or at least parity in terms of phone features. For instance, being able to check voice messages from within Gmail would be a plus. And shouldn't you be able to make PC calls from within Google Voice itself? (It has a calling feature, but it does something different: It rings both you and the person you want to talk to on your standard phones.)
It's been a while since a new Google service has really changed the way I get work done. This one could do the trick.
This story, "Gmail's Phone Feature: A Logical Addition" was originally published by Technologizer.