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Google Voice lets you make phone calls from UK Gmail

Google Voice has quietly arrived in Gmail in the UK, sidling into your inbox and letting you make phone calls to mobiles and landlines.

Google Voice has quietly arrived in Gmail, sidling into your inbox to deliver a blow to Skype. You can now make phone calls to mobiles and landlines from Gmail on your computer.

Google Voice has been in the US for a while, and is designed to give you one phone number for life. It's now been expanded to Blighty, among other places, and you can now pay in pounds, Euros, Canadian dollars or US dollars.

To get chatting, install the voice and video plug-in and look out for the little green phone icon to show up at the top of your chat list. You'll need to add credit first, which only offers the option of topping up £10 at a time -- before VAT. You can set it up to send you an email warning you when you drop to £2.

Google Voice saves your call history, just like a phone. It also saves a record of really short calls, for which you can ask for your money back if you had to cut off the call because the quality wasn't good enough.

If you use business-minded Google Apps, like we do here at CNET Towers, you'll need to ask your domain administrator to enable Google Voice and Google Checkout in order to get calling. Calls to other Gmail users via a browser remain free.

Call rates are respectable: mobiles and France cost 7p per minute, but India costs 2p and a chinwag with our colonial friends costs just 1 per minute. There are no connection charges, unlike Skype, so you only pay for the time you spend chatting.

Skype was recently bought by Microsoft, and also integrated with Facebook for video calling within the social network. Apple kicked off the current crop of video calling with FaceTime. Video chat is also a key element of Google+.

If you're not keen on this new-fangled talking on your computer, there are cheap options for your old-fashioned phone too: an override provider such as 18185 lets you call cheaply from your landline by punching in a short code first.

Will you use Google Voice? Voice your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.