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Hangouts and Google Voice edge closer together with free audio-only calls and more

When Hangouts launched in May 2013, product manager Nikhyl Singhal said that Google Voice integration was coming “soon.” The Web giant has taken its time, but sixteen months later, it’s finally beginning to happen.

Android and iOS users can make use of several new features by loading up the latest version of the Hangouts app. The changes are also being rolled out to the Hangouts Web app.

The update means you can now make free audio-only calls from Hangouts to any number in the US and Canada, though a fee will be incurred for international calls (see here for Google’s “competitive” rates). Of course, video calls to other Hangouts users – wherever they’re located – continue to be free.

To set it up, Android users will need to load up the latest version of Hangouts – released Wednesday – from the Google Play Store. Then it’s simply a case of installing the new Hangouts Dialer app to activate voice-calling functionality.

Related: How to make a Skype group video call for free

iOS users, on the other hand, should find that voice calls are available immediately upon opening the updated app. You can grab the latest version from the iTunes Store here.

And there’s more on the way (initially for Android users only) – in the next few days, you’ll be able to send and receive Google Voice SMS messages from Hangouts. In addition, Google Voice voicemails will start showing in Hangouts as part of ongoing chats, the Mountain View company’s Chee Chew said in a Google+ post.

Chew added, “Hangouts remains the future of Google Voice, so we’re going to keep bringing the most-loved Google Voice features into the core Hangouts experience.”

Hangouts launched last year as an alternative to similar offerings such as Microsoft’s Skype and Apple’s FaceTime, though until now only offered face-to-face chats (including group chats) and messaging with other Hangouts users. Live-stream broadcasts to large audiences is also a feature of the free software.

Integrating Google Voice adds much greater functionality to the service and should make it a more attractive proposition for users on the hunt for a decent all-in-one communication tool.