Voice and video chat applications such as Skype, Windows Messenger and Apple's FaceTime have made high-quality computer-to-computer and even computer-to-smartphone communication easy and free. However, most of these apps require both you and the person you're calling to use the same software at the same time. There's currently only one company that offers unlimited-length free voice calling to domestic phones -- Google. For shorter calls you may use a lesser-known service, or convince your frequently-called pals with smartphones to install a free app that lets you call them from your PC.
Install the Gmail Voice and Video Chat plugin and use Google Chat to place a call. When Google created its Google Voice service, the company added free domestic calling to Google Chat. If you don't have a Gmail account, create one, sign in and click the "Call Phone" icon in the left-hand pane to start a new call. If you don't see a "Call Phone" icon, click the Chat icon at the bottom left-hand corner of the Gmail window to open Chat. The drawback to calling from Google Chat is that the call recipient will see a generic phone number -- 760-705-8888 -- and won't be able to return your call using that number. If you'd like to receive calls as well as place them within Google Chat, sign up for a free Google Voice account, which assigns you a unique phone number. To use Google Voice you must connect it to your wireless or landline phone, but once it's up and running you may also link the account to your Google Chat account.
Sign up for iCall, which allows you to make domestic phone calls of up to five minutes free. The iCall application is available for Windows, Mac and Ubuntu, and offers other features such as text messaging and an extension you can use to have people call you back through the service. When your free call reaches the five-minute mark, iCall will disconnect you, but you may call back as many times as you like. ICall offers a paid subscription that removes the time limit and gives you a unique callback number. A number of other services allow you to make free outbound phone calls, but most either severely limit call time or require a credit card even for their "free" plans. Look carefully at requirements and limitations before signing up with a provider.
Install Skype on both your computer and the phone of the person you'll be calling. What Skype calls "free calling" is actually voice chat, meaning you don't dial a phone number but instead click on the recipient in your Skype client, but when you initiate a call, the recipient will be alerted that the call is coming in and can answer it much like a normal wireless call. Both of you must be signed into Skype to make and receive calls using the service. Skype also offers calling to non-Skype users for a low monthly fee or by the minute using "Skype credit." Other voice and video chat clients such as FaceTime and Yahoo Messenger offer mobile apps to keep you connected with others using the same service.
- Voice calling from a PC requires a microphone and speakers. A headset may offer better sound isolation and voice quality.
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