Google Voice: Great New Free Service

September 2009

Here I am, sitting by my corded landline phone. Your Internet columnist is living in the technological Stone Age. I have an iPhone, but I almost never use it to make and receive calls, mostly because I don’t like the idea of my phone sending a signal through my brain to a tower that’s a couple miles. (I mostly use my iPhone to access the Internet, of course. Got to feed my addiction.)

So that’s why I probably won’t be using Google Voice. I’m a one-phone guy. But you, on the other hand, will love it. Even though I don’t need it, I get excited just reading about it.

Let’s say you have three phones: home phone, office phone, and cell phone. Ever had somebody trying to track you down and calling you on all three numbers? Or maybe they have your home number but not your cell number. All this gets confusing to you and the people trying to call.

Google Voice changes all that. They give you a free telephone number that you give to people, a number that’s associated with you, not a particular phone. It greatly simplifies things. And you have complete control over which phone rings based on who’s calling.

Maybe you want your spouse to ring all three phones when he or she calls (or maybe not). Or when your business associates call the number, you can have it just ring your office phone. Or, if your ex calls, you can have it go directly to your free Google voicemail — or blocked.

Google Voice also lets you have different voicemail greetings for different callers, as well as the ability schedule when calls are routed to specific phones.

Another advantage is that if you move, or get a different cell phone carrier, you don’t need to give all your contacts your new number. You simply change the number in your Google Voice settings.

The voicemail service itself has great features. You can check it from any phone or online. The notification option sends you an e-mail or text message alerting you to a new voicemail message. And get this, the message contains not only information on the caller and length of message, but also a transcript of the message itself. Plus, there’s a link that you can click to listen to the message.

The phone messages online appear almost like an e-mail account, with the latest ones at the top and including the name of the caller. They also include the transcript. You can listen your voice messages in any order, forward them via e-mail, or download them. Plus, since each one has a transcript, you can do a global search for a specific message based on its content.

Google Voice also stores your text messages online in an inbox and has a number of useful texting features, such as the ability to reply via the web interface or to send text messages directly from the web.

It gets better. You can use Google Voice to place calls for free in the U.S. and for 2 cents per minute internationally. Really, it sounds to good to be true. However, to place such a call, you must first call your Google Voice number and then enter the number you want to call. There’s also free conference calling. If you’re on a call and someone else calls, you can choose to let that person join your call.

The many other features include the ability to record calls and store them online, as well as a Listen In feature that lets you listen in before taking a call.

So is there a catch? Yep, a couple small ones. When you place a call, the number associated with the phone you’re using shows up in the other person’s caller ID rather than your Google Voice number. But there are a number of ways to avoid this, such as the aforementioned placing your call through Google by first calling your Google Voice number. Also, when you first get your Google Voice number, you’re faced with the task of giving it out to everyone.

The service is gradually being rolled out. As I write this in early August, to use the service you must enter your e-mail address into the Google Voice website and they’ll notify you when they’re ready to give you an account. But news reports say they’re giving them out fast. Go get yours!

© 2009 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen