Google Voice brings the 21st century to phone service
I’ve had a Gmail account for many, many years; I was one of the first beta testers. I was still surprised when I got an invitation to join Google Voice. So I signed up and chose a number; I chose one that would be easier for me to remember in my own area code. And then I went ahead to try and figure out what this service does for you. And it’s actually pretty awesome!
You have a website that you log into that shows you your voicemail in a fashion not dissimilar to how Gmail works. So you have your Google Voice number, and you can forward it to any other number that you want. Naturally, I made the new Google Voice number forward to my cell phone, but it can also forward to more than one number. So when you call my Google Voice number, it rings to my cell phone.
So when someone is calling me, the system will first ask them for their name, and then it calls my number using that person’s caller ID. So for example, if you have your contacts in your phonebook, you can then not only see who’s calling you, you can also hear them saying their name, and then you can decide whether you want to accept the call. In that case, you press 1 and are immediately connected; or if you want, you can send them to voicemail. Or (and this is a neat feature) if you want to listen to them as you do at home on your answering machine, you can listen in as they leave a voicemail. (I’m not sure if you can pick up during the voicemail—I’ll check that out.)
This is all part of a free service. What’s great about it is that it’s integrated with the desktop, so you can go the website and listen to the voicemail.
Additional Awesome Features
Google Voice also provides a curious service: you can call into your own number and place calls through the Google Voice service. It’s free in the U.S. for incoming calls, outgoing calls and text messages, according to what they say. And they have pretty decent international rates, too, and there is no monthly charge. So if from my cell phone (that I registered with Google Voice), I call my own Google Voice number, and I can place calls. The advantage for me is that I’m now calling a local number (the Google number), which would be included in the 3,000 minutes on my current cell plan—so now, I’m calling, say, England from my cell phone via Google Voice for two cents a minute instead of the 25 cents a minute I would be paying my cell phone carrier.
The other interesting feature is voicemail transcription. If you place a call and you look at what’s going on on the website, it’s all in real time. So you can see that a call is coming in, and you can see that someone is leaving you a message. And then you get this “transcription in progress” message, and sure enough, a short period after that, the phone call is transcribed. And the transcription is free, too. Google did indicate there are different grades of transcription, like you can get something better. The low-grade, what I got, seems to be completely automated, and the quality is… funny. (see below)
And the voicemail is placed and transcribed on your account online, but it’s also being sent to you as a text message. First, you receive a text that says you’ve got a new voicemail, and it gives the caller ID of the person and a short transcription of what the person said. And then there is another text or two or three with the full transcription, depending on the length of the message. So you’d better have unlimited text messaging, or else you’re in trouble here!
They also have number portability. So you can have your Google number forward to both your home and cell numbers, so now you can change home or cell providers at will underneath Google Voice because they just made number portability even easier.
So what’s great about Google Voice is that someone finally brought the 21st century into the phone service. If you look at our office, if you try to place calls, depending on which area code you call into, you need to dial 1, maybe not 1, and that’s because land lines are still stuck in the 50s. We moved to the cell phone companies, and they made some progress. They went up to the 80s or 90s and got stuck there. So it’s good that Google brings the 21st century to phone service. Hopefully, this will prod others either to improve their own service or go out of business.