Google Gmail Video Chat Review

Rating: 3 WaterTowers


I signed up for Gmail (twice) and then downloaded the Google Videoconferencing application to see how well it works.

Result: It works well although it appears to be limited to point-to-point video and text chat (i.e. no whiteboard or app sharing).

Is it easy enough for “GrandMa” to use? No.

But, then again, if you know your way around a computer and spend a little “think” time, this application can work for you.

Before we get started….meet Serge from Google:

What Do You Need

You will need a Mac (Well….Google’s web site says it works with Safari, but, not specifically if it works with a Mac or not..I have found that they have very poor specification / support information on the Web…meaning I could not find it) or Windows PC and a web cam. The supported browsers include Firefox 2.0 and above, Internet Explorer 6.0 and above, Safari 3.0 and above, and Google Chrome.

I used Google Video Chat on two different Windows XP computers using Firefox 3.0.4 and Google Chrome.

Installation and Set-Up

First I had to sign up for Gmail. Luckily it is free, and I may even like it better than Yahoo, we will see.

Once I signed up, and was back in my new Gmail window, I did not see a video option (see below). How weird.

However, a short time later (was it my plugging in my web cam?), bingo, there it was. That is either very cool, or I was too quick to try to test this.

Oh well….welcome to my world…always the first to try something new! 😉

I downloaded and installed the “New! Video chat” application and it went very smoothly. I did this again for Sunny, our Yellow Lab, and it again it went smoothly.

You can see below that a video camera icon has been placed next to my name in the Chat area. I then clicked on “Settings” and was allowed to make changes to the voice and video chat settings and also to verify these settings. Very nice.

I’m good to go.

Now I needed to add Sunny to my contact list. This was fairly easy to do but not super easy as, again, I had another window to contend with and then had to wait for Sunny to accept in chat invitation (but, that is a good thing, because I had a request from some unknown person that I said “No” to).

Can you tell that the number of separate windows that are popping up are starting to get to me?

Making the Call

Sunny accepted my invitation (good dog) and I see him in the chat window.

Now I have to mouse scroll over his name (opening a new window), click on chat (opening another new window), then I need to open up a menu option (another window), to select “Start Video chat”. Whew.

Sunny’s computer rings and he accepts the call.

The result is shown below.

The video quality is good and the audio worked in both directions. Success!

Playing around a bit, I found that you can disconnect the video from the browser and then make it larger or smaller depending upon your needs. You can also make it full-screen and you can grab and drag the picture-in-picture. Nice.

Features (and Non Features)

You can videoconference with one other person (my current understanding is that this is only point-to-point, but, I will verify). You can text chat with that person.

You cannot, as far as I can see, whiteboard or share an application. To transfer a file you need to use email.

What was Confusing

The process, the buttons you need to push, the layout of the browser, and the number of windows that pop up, all had me guessing what the next step might be.

To set up a video call, I had to:

  • Go to my Chat list and see who has video enabled
  • Roll my mouse over that person (or Dog) to see another window then click on “Chat”.
  • Another window comes up with a message I can enter to start the chat (I thought)
  • But….I need to click on the “Video & more” menu to actually start the video chat session.

Too many windows, too many steps. says: Google needs to make this easier. When I see the video camera next to my contact, I should be able to click on it and start a video call. Simple and clean. The person at the far end, of course, has the option of not accepting it.

Summary / Comments

Google (being somewhat well known) has taken a bold step by bringing videoconferencing to the “masses”. Bravo! has, for years and years, felt that “desktop videoconferencing” is the way to the hearts of millions and this is a great step in that direction. However, the process should be much simpler, and I feel the process may hinder many people who are on the computer, but, not computer savvy from trying it.

For videoconferencing on your computer ooVoo is much easier (and I will continue to use it as my main non-standards based VC application), and other (standards-based) applications such as the Polycom PVX or Mirial Softphone have more capabilities.

Technical info / specifications / features on this application is lacking. At least I could not find it…


  • Mike, How did you find the audio? I've tried it twice, once Australia <-> USA and once just over LAN in office and while the video quality was pretty good, audio was very poor.C


  • I tested it desk to desk in my office and audio was ok. I would love to test it with a few others and update the Blog entry appropriately. Let me know.Thanks for the comment. 🙂


  • Mike, can you try it with multiple users and see how it does in that environment?


  • You bet…when do you want to give it a try? Nice to hear from you. 🙂


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  • Thanks for the review.
    I felt the same abt this google thing. Too many steps to start video chat.
    i tried video chat b/w India and US. Both video and audio quality was good.

    While I was video chatting with Dad I tried to do the same with brother in AZ. It did not work though. I could not inititate video chat. Looks like I can do with only one person at a time.


  • One interesting development. it has come to my attention that Google video use the Vidyo (see my review of the VidyoDesktop) video technology.


  • Thanks for the useful review. I just did an Aus – USA call and the audio and video were surprisingly good. I was expecting worse as I have a wireless modem. There was a bit of distortion, pitchshifting, popping, and (on the usa end) echoing but not enough to distract. When we tried a voice call the audio was much better.

    I found it quite easy to get started. After installation and restarting gmail there was a bit of “can you hear me” but that resolved itself in a minute or so. And I don’t expect to have the same problems next time.

    One question I have is does this service eat up my allocated upload/downloads? I have a prepaid amount and the internet is not cheap over here. I would not expect it to but I have no experience in this field and google has not posted any info. How much would a 10min call cost?

    Thanks again.


  • Good question. The only advice I can give is that whenever video (and audio) is involved your bandwidth requirements / usage will go up. Soooo, if you have only a certain amount of bits per month, you will run out quicker using video. As per the 10 min call costs….no idea. Maybe someone else can chime in?

    Thanks for commenting! 🙂


  • Hello TelBitConsulting.
    I have heard that google records a lot of user’s personal info.
    Does it records the video conversations as well?
    Thanks in advance, if you have the answer.


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