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Free — and Nearly Free — Phone Calls

We round up effective ways to save on your phone bill.

Feature rich and free

Finally, a solution that's free, reliable, full-featured and comfortable to use, courtesy of Google. There's no need to buy any new gear to use Google Voice. You simply sign up for an account at http://www.google.com/voice. In the process, you enter information about your own phone numbers (home, cell, whatever). Then, when you want to place a call, type the number into Google Voice (you can save these numbers as contacts for future calling convenience). When you click on "Connect," Google first calls your own phone. Then, when you answer, it dials the number you want to call. That's it — you hold a conversation on your regular phone, just as if you'd dialed it the traditional way. Behind the scenes, though, Google has routed your call over the Internet, at no charge for U.S. numbers or a small charge internationally.

The few seconds it takes to place a call via your computer keyboard instead of the phone dial seems a small price to pay for free local and long distance service. There's only one significant caveat: Google Voice is loaded with sophisticated calling features — far too many to list here (they're explained on the website). You can use them or ignore them as you see fit, but the very feature-richness that will charm the tech-savvy may intimidate those who like just-dial-the-phone simplicity. Either way, we'd advise you to give Google Voice a try. The Call button's easily found at the top left corner of the page, and the price can't be beat.

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