In our new reality, plenty of us are having to get used to working from home, and that often means making and taking calls, depending on your job. If you don’t want to have your phone pressed to your ear all day, or you’d rather keep your work on your work machine and your actual life on your phone, you can get those calls done on your laptop or desktop.
There are a slew of ways to call someone from your computer, from video-conferencing software like Zoom to a messaging app like Slack, but here we’re going to concentrate on calling actual cell or landline numbers from Windows or macOS (and receiving calls, too, in some cases, though that’s not always possible).
A computer is required, obviously, but it doesn’t matter if you use Windows or macOS, a laptop or a desktop. If you’re using a Mac and an iPhone, then you know those devices already play together very well, but there are some other options you should know about, too.
You can make calls using your computer’s built-in mic and speakers, but it’s not usually the best experience, with the voices of friends, family, or colleagues booming out and shaking the walls. (Dramatic? Maybe. But it’s loud.) The pros use a headset with a mic, which makes your calls sound better and gives you more privacy, too.
Any business or gaming headset will do for phone calls. You could buy something like this headset from Amazon for example, or the Elite Pro 2 gaming headset from Turtle Beach, or even a pair of Apple AirPods. For best results, you want a wired USB or 3.5mm audio jack connection, but Bluetooth will work as well, if you’re OK with adding some unpredictability into the mix.
It’s a good idea to make sure your headset of choice is working as intended before you start making important work calls. On Windows, open the Start menu, click the cog icon on the left, then choose System and Sound. You can make sure the right input and output devices are selected, change the volume levels, and test your microphone. Click App volume and device preferences if you want the volume in your calling app to be different from the other apps on your system.
If you’re using macOS, open the Apple menu, then System Preferences. Click Sound, and on the Input and Output tabs you’ll be able to select your headset, check the volume levels, and even adjust the balance of the sound. Pay particular attention to the microphone volume level, because you don’t want to deafen the people you talk to.
None of this is difficult, and it’s worth checking your settings in advance rather than trying to figure them out on a call. To be absolutely sure everything is working correctly, you can always do a test recording via the Voice Recorder app on Windows and QuickTime Player on macOS.
You a have a lot of options when it comes to making phone calls. If you’ve got a Mac and an iPhone signed into the same Apple ID, just load up FaceTime for macOS. You can place an audio call to any number from the desktop FaceTime app through your iPhone by typing it in and clicking Audio (or just pick the name of a contact from the list).
If you’re on Windows, the Your Phone app that’s now part of Microsoft’s operating system can make calls through a linked Android phone. It’s almost as smooth as macOS and an iPhone. Launch the app from the Start menu, switch to the Calls tab, then follow the instructions (you’ll also need to get this app on your Android phone).
If you don’t want to route calls via your phone, Skype is a reliable option, with desktop clients for Windows and macOS. Click here for prices for calling mobiles and landlines; a variety of subscription options are available, and you get 60 calling minutes a month if you’re an Office 365 subscriber. Just tap out the number you want to call in the app (head to the program settings and you can set a Caller ID as well).
Keku is similar to Skype but runs inside a web browser—again, you can just tap out any number to ring it, and set your Caller ID as needed. Calls to the U.S. are included in your $5/month subscription package, and you can click here to check rates for international calls. Call recording is available, too, if that’s something you’d find useful.
Google Voice is still around, and if you’ve signed up for the service then you can make calls to cell phones and landlines through the web interface. Click here to check out international calling rates, or call numbers in the U.S. for free. Aside from being able to make calls from your computer, Google Voice also offers automatic voicemail transcription.
Then there’s TextNow, which is available through desktop clients for Windows and macOS as well as mobile apps for Android and iOS. You get a free phone number to use, and calls made to landlines and cell phones in the U.S. are free (click here for international rates). Upgrade to a subscription package for more features, including voicemail transcription and the ability to bring your existing cell number over.
(Updated 3/4/22 with new details)