Google Talk started out as a minimalist chat client that was soon successful among people precisely due to its simplicity in functions and design. It grew in popularity together with Gmail, to the extent that it was later on embedded into the webmail interface and also began offering support for voice chats. The next logical step was video, which Google Talk just added today and is slowly rolling out to all Gmail accounts – including mine!
After checking that I already had video chats enabled on my Gmail account, I downloaded the necessary plug-in and grabbed hold of my webcam. There was no lengthy configuration process required: simply plug your cam, select a contact in the Gmail box and click on “Start video chat”. However if you want to check video chat settings or need troubleshooting, there’s a new area in the Gmail configuration menu where you can check the video, audio and microphone settings: click on Settings and then on the Chat tab and you’ll be right there.
Google Talk video chat offers an impressive sound and image quality. Even in full-screen mode (which you can enable by clicking on the small square on the top left corner of the video window) image remains clear enough and, above all, is never bumpy or clunky. Streaming is in fact smooth and continuous, and so is sound: even with the mic far away from us we had clear-cut audio during the whole chat.
The video window is minimized on the bottom right corner and cannot be moved – something I found a bit annoying. Of course, you can always pop the window out but that means you have two windows instead of one, which is not that useful anymore. The standard text chat takes place right under the video window, with the usual format and tools.
Google Talk has left a very good taste in my mouth after testing it for a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if it started gaining users quickly and was – in the long run – a serious competitor for other popular voIP tools. It does have one requirement though (a Gmail account) but I’m not sure if a free 7-GB Google-powered webmail account can exactly be called a requirement. It’s simply something everyone should have.