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Magid on tech: Clear calls from Berlin with Gmail Phone

BERLIN — A pair of new Gmail features is making life easier and cheaper for me as I work from my hotel room as I’m attending a Berlin technology trade show. Google’s new Gmail Phone service is letting me make and receive calls from the same number that people call to reach me at home. And unlike international cell phone roaming, it doesn’t cost anything between here and the U.S. And the e-mail service’s new Priority Inbox feature makes it easier to find important messages amidst the many not-so-important messages that clog my inbox. The Gmail phone service was launched last week and the new Priority Inbox was announced Tuesday.

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To use the free phone service you need a free Gmail account, but you don’t necessarily have to actually use the e-mail service. If you don’t have a Gmail account, you can set one up at Gmail.com. Once logged into Gmail, look for the words “call phone” in the chat section in the left-most column. The words are small so you have to look for them. When you first click on it you’ll have to accept the terms of service and you may be prompted to install software. Once done, you’ll get an on-screen dial pad that you can use to call almost any phone in the world.

Through at least the end of this year (and possibly forever) all calls in the United States and Canada are free. International calls start at 2 cents a minute for landlines in many countries, including most of Europe and China. Calls to cell phones outside of North America are usually more expensive because the caller pays for air time in most countries. At 2 cents a minute, it’s cheaper to call the restaurant down the street via Gmail than it is to use my hotel phone in Germany — even though the Gmail call is routed through the U.S.

If you have a Google Voice number, you can receive calls as well. Google Voice is a service that…

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