How to Use Gmail for Free Video or Audio Internet Calling

Video/Audio Calling Is Available Right From Your Gmail Account

Video phone conference
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Google makes it easy to video or audio chat from within the Gmail interface on your desktop or laptop computer. Previously, these features required special plug-ins to be installed, but now you can start a video or audio chat directly from your Gmail account.

As of July 2015, a product called Google Hangouts became the default application that allows you to chat using video and audio through Gmail.

Make a Video or Audio Call With Gmail

On a desktop or laptop, you can access Google Hangouts directly from the side panel in Gmail. On the bottom right side of Gmail is a separate section from your emails. One icon represents your contacts, another is Google Hangouts (it's a round icon with quotation marks inside), and the last is a phone icon.

If you find a contact you want to chat with, you can just click their name to bring up a new chat window on the bottom of the Gmail interface. From there, the screen will look like a standard instant messaging screen except that they'll be a few buttons there for video and audio calling.

Obviously, you can use this chat window for text chat but above the text area are some additional buttons like a camera, group button, phone, and SMS button. What you see here depends on what the contact has set up on their own account, whether you have their phone number saved, etc.

To make a video or audio call from Gmail, just click the button you want to use that corresponds to the call you want to make, and it will immediately start calling that contact. If you're making an audio call, and your contact has multiple numbers (e.g. work and home), you'll be asked which one you want to call.

Note: Most calls within the US are free, and international calls are billed at low rates that you can check out here. You'll see how much a call costs once you initiate it. Most calls within the US will be free.

Using a Mobile Device

Using Google Hangouts through Gmail on a laptop or desktop is handy and effective but there might be times when you'd rather use Google Hangouts on the go. Fortunately, the feature is available on mobile devices too.

While you can access Google Hangouts from Gmail on a computer, you need the Google Hangouts app to do the same from your phone or tablet - the Gmail app won't work.

Visit iTunes to download Hangouts for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Most Android devices can use Hangouts too, accessible through Google Play.

Once you choose a contact from the Hangouts app, you'll see options for starting a video or audio call, much like when using Gmail for internet calls.

Tips and More Information on Using Google Hangouts

  • Google Hangouts supports a wide range of operating systems and browsers, which you can take a look at here. However, if you experience any issues, you may want to try using the latest version of Google Chrome.
  • A Google Hangouts video call can support up to ten people, so it's a great option for group video chats! If you're just chatting over text, Hangouts supports 150 contacts.
  • After 2.5 hours, Hangouts will ask you if you're still in the video call. If you don't respond, the call will end.
  • In testing the video chat feature where you can invite people to chat, we noticed that invitations were sometimes not received, or if they were, the link provided in the invite didn't seem to connect to the same video chat session that the sender of the invite initiated. ​
  • To be sure that your invitation is received, you may want to send a link to the session directly to the recipient via email. On the screen that allows you to invite people, there is a link that you can copy - just paste it into the email to make sure they get the message.
  • In addition to video, audio, and text chat, you can also send images, stickers, and location data through Hangouts.
  • To improve quality, Google Hangouts might connect you to contacts using peer-to-peer technology instead of a Google server.
  • If you notice any problems using Google Hangouts on mobile, make sure that both you and your recipient are using the latest version of the app.