Google Voice is the latest technology that I’ve been excited about. It has a lot of features and helps make a phone number yours instead of just something that the phone company loans to you. Google Voice allows you to have one phone number and direct where it goes, such as your office phone, your landline, your cell phone, or all three. From there, you still have more options and features to take advantage of. Check out Google’s own quick description in this YouTube video:
Where Did This Come From?
Google Voice is a relaunch, currently in invite-only Beta, of the GrandCentral service Google acquired in 2007. Most of the previous GrandCentral features have survived the migration and seen additions. Former GrandCentral customers were also the first to have access to the Google Voice private beta.
Since Google Voice is currently available as an invite-only service, you’ll need to request your invitation from Google first. In consulting with others on the service, it seems to take about a week to a little more than a week between the request and receiving the invitation. Once you receive your invite, the setting up process can begin. You sign into Google Voice with your Google account at www.google.com/voice
The first task will be to choose your Google Voice number. You do this by searching by area code. You can specify strings of numbers you want to appear in your number and it will go out and search for available numbers that match your search. If at some point you decide you don’t like your Google Voice number, you can change it for a $10 charge (paid through Google Checkout). In my opinion, what would be ideal would be to port your current number to Google Voice so that your contacts don’t have to learn a new number. This is a feature that is being speculated at being included later this fall. Unfortunately, porting your number from one cell carrier to another (or to Google Voice) will most likely terminate your contract, ending your service and likely leaving you with an early termination fee.
The next step is to add your other phones so Google Voice can know where to direct them. Under Settings, you’ll find a tab for Phones. Add a new phone for anything that you might want to forward a Google Voice call to. You can switch phones in the middle of a conversation by hitting the * key, so if you get a call at work and 5 o’clock rolls around, just transfer the call to your cell phone and head out the door to complete your conversation on the go. You might consider adding your landline home phone number, your cell phone, your work phone, and other lines.
Once you add a phone line, Google Voice will try to verify the line. It will call the number you just entered and a recorded voice will begin speaking, prompting you to enter a 2-digit security code that it’s displaying on screen. This means you’ll need to be able to answer the phone and see the screen at the same time, so you might need to wait until later to setup that work phone.
The next step is to setup your Groups and rules. You can manage different groups and place people into the groups so you can control what phone their call might forward to, if it goes straight to voicemail, or if it depends on the day of the week.
You can create more groups than the Coworkers, Friends, and Family default groups that you start out with. Under the settings for each group you can change which phones ring, the greeting people receive at voice mail, and if Google Voice announces their name when you answer the phone.
The people in each group and the different groups are controlled through Google Contacts, which is pretty ubiquitous throughout Google’s services to quietly automatically add your frequent contacts to a list.
The last tab under Settings refers to billing. Largely, Google Voice is a free service. You can call within the US at no additional cost than your normal phone bill. International calls will cost money however. Google does offer fairly low rates for international calls though. You start off with a ten cent credit and I haven’t used it yet through normal usage.
Even if you give everyone your Google Voice number, if you call them directly and they return a call to you, they’ll bypass the system and get your direct line. This largely defeats the whole purpose. You can use the Google Voice website to make your phone calls, which will keep everything in the system. Just hit the Call button at the top of any page inside Google Voice and a little bubble will pop-up. You can enter the phone number you want to call and which phone of yours it should connect to. You can also call your own Google Voice number and press ‘2’ at the menu to place a call. Then just dial the number and the call will remain within Google Voice. This is speculation, but the down side of this would be that you would miss out on free mobile-to-mobile or free in-network calls that your mobile provider might offer. Then again, maybe if you have a “Fave 5” system you might be able to add Google Voice as one of your favorites and route all your calls through it. Anybody have any thoughts on that?
You can also use Google Voice to send free text messages. Just hit the SMS button next to the aforementioned Call button. Then enter the 10 digit number, your message, and send it on its way.
In my opinion, one of the greatest features of Google Voice is its automatic text-to-speech translation of voice mails. When somebody leaves you a voicemail, Google Voice will translate what they said into text and then optionally e-mail it to you. I’m even tempted to call my own number and leave a voice mail for any e-mails I need to write or notes I want to make during long drives. With a few edits, I’ll be able to hands-free compose a few written notes while heading somewhere (hands-free, of course).
You can still listen to the voice mail like normal and the translation will appear in your inbox alongside the message. You can play the voice mail by calling your Google Voice from any of your registered phones or by visiting the Google Voice website through a simple Flash player. The translation will highlight as the message is played.
Many of these settings and features that have been highlighted can be turned off if you find them annoying through the Settings.
Some other features worth highlighting that I didn’t manage to work into the narrative above are: Game Time Decisions – If somebody calls your Google Voice number and you answer, you have three choices: You can answer, you can send the call to voice mail, or you can send the call to voice mail and listen in as the message is left. Call Recording – Currently you can only record calls that you receive. Press ‘4’ at any point during a phone call to begin recording the conversation. This will play an auditory warning for both individuals in the conversation when recording starts and stops. I believe recorded calls will also have the text-to-speech translation run on it so you can later have a transcript of the conversation. All Together Now – Calls can be forwarded to up to six different phones and you can set up four-way conference calls. Web Widget – This might be more practical for small business websites or private personal blogs, but you can add a widget to your website/blog for Google Voice. If somebody clicks on it, it will ask their number, call them, and then connect you. This protects you from giving out a phone number but still allowing people to contact you. You can also use the scheduling features so calls are sent to voice mail outside of your hours.
With Google Voice being all about the phone, what can I do from my mobile browser? You can’t perform the initial setup through a mobile browser (which was quite unfortunate since I received my invite the week my Pre was my only source of Internet access), but beyond that you can control many of the settings from a mobile browser. You can view your inbox and view the transcripts of your messages. You can also play your messages if your phone supports streaming the file type that Google Voice uses (the Palm Pre doesn’t currently). You can also change a limited number of settings, most importantly being that you can change the phone to which calls will get directed.
You can also configure Google Voice to send you an SMS alert that you have a new voice mail. It will tell you the number the call came from and give you a small preview of the message transcript.
As I mentioned earlier, I do believe using Google Voice as a middle man will cut you out of deals for free mobile-to-mobile calls. There are currently apps available for Android and Blackberry phones. Of course, there has also been much press about how Apple rejected the Google Voice app from the App Store for the iPhone. As of writing, there is no application through the Palm Pre App Catalog for Google Voice. There is one coming called gDial Pro, but for now it is a Homebrew app and can be acquired from Pre Central. An app for your smart phone would make the Google Voice service easier because it would dial out and allow you to use the Contacts on your phone for outgoing calls.
If you’re in between phone contracts and hope to port your phone number over to Google Voice at some point later, you might be interested in the service provided by Number Garage. They allow you to park your number for a fixed rate per month or you can forward calls to another number for a slightly higher rate. This might allow you to hold onto your number without getting into a 2 year contract so you can port the number to Google Voice at some point in the future, and forward calls to a new cell number in the meantime. Google Voice also works Skype and Gizmo5 VoIP services. You can read more about getting it to work in this article from LifeHacker.
Request your invite from Google Voice while it’s still in invite-only beta here: https://services.google.com/fb/forms/googlevoiceinvite/ Then sign into the service here: www.google.com/voice