You know that little green phone icon in your Gmail chat column? Ever tried it? You might today, since Google has expanded calling from Gmail to support 38 languages and four payment currencies.

Last year, Google launched the service making it possible to call any mobile phone or landline in the United States directly from Gmail. Calls to the U.S. or Canada placed within those countries will “continue to be free at least for the rest of 2011.” So you have no excuse not to call your mom often. Calls to the U.S. or Canada placed from outside these countries will be charged “the insanely low rate” (those are Google’s words) of $0.01 per minute (or €0.01, £0.01, C$0.01 per minute).

The news prompted me to try the service for the first time (why call when you can video chat or IM?). I use it to call my baby’s sitter who isn’t online during the day. The call was refreshingly clear, something folks living in an area with notoriously bad reception (eh-hem, San Francisco) will appreciate.

“With today’s announcement, we also have ensured that the product offers better quality with echo cancellation, better sound quality and noise reduction,” says Vincent Paquet, group product manager, in an emailed interview with VentureBeat. “Call quality is a must-have and people should not have to think about it.”

My second Gmail voice call is with a Google spokesperson, who says she uses this all the time with reporters. She noted the record option (the caller is notified when the call is recorded) and the ability to work within the browser window while talking. Multitaskers, rejoice! Hopefully soon I will have the opportunity to call someone in another country… like Andorra.

Google doesn’t see Skype and other calling services as competition. Rather, it says this service is an extension of the existing communication services the company offers.

We reached out to Skype for comment.

“Skype is the world’s only real-time communications tool that can connect everyone, everywhere and on any device,” says a Skype spokesperson. “It’s cross platform support means that it can connect people who are on a PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone, your home HDTV or even while surfing Facebook. This makes its reach truly global and its value truly wonderful and useful.”

Speaking of useful, starting today you can also purchase Gmail calling credit in four currencies: Euros, British pounds, Canadian dollars or U.S. dollars. Google doesn’t charge connection fees, and it has reduced calling rates to 150 locations. It now costs $0.10 (or €0.08) per minute to call mobile phones in the U.K., France or Germany (landlines are $0.02/min), $0.15/minute to call mobile phones in Mexico and $0.02/min to call any phone number in China and India. The complete list is available on Google’s rates page.

The feature is rolling out this week. You’ll know it’s available in your country when a little green phone icon shows up at the top of your chat list.  You’ll need to install the voice and video plug-in to use it.


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