Google Voice: If you were a chick, I’d kiss you with an open mouth

 

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I’ve been a subscriber of the free, little-known GrandCentral service for several years, and have gotten a lot of use out of it. GrandCentral’s aim was to give you “one telephone number for life” — a motto that wound up being rather ironic when they notified me some months back that the number I was using would no longer be available and they assigned me a new one. I’ve still got company checks with that old number printed on them, how annoying. (They swear it will never happen again.)

That hiccup aside, about a year and a half ago, they were bought out by Google. And time passed with no news. Like many frequent users, I began to worry that Google had wasted their investment and would toss it to the curb at some point. That is, until a couple weeks ago, when they unveiled their overhaul of the service, now dubbed Google Voice.

So what makes it so cool?

For starters, the service gives you a new telephone number that becomes your central hub for calls and SMS. In my case, since I have enjoyed the ability to work from home over the years, I use Google Voice as my business number. When folks ring me at that number, the call is routed to both my home and cell phone numbers at the same time, and I can answer the call from either one. In this way, I can give out one number and be reached almost anywhere I might be (sadly, at the moment that’s anywhere in the USA, but did I mention this service is free?).

The beauty of this is that you can also switch incoming calls from one number to the other. Say I picked up a call while I’m out running errands on my cell phone, and during the course of the conversation, I come back home and want to switch the call to my home phone to save on battery or cell phone minutes. I hit the star key, my home phone rings, and I keep the conversation going without the caller even realizing what’s going on.

One of my favorite uses for Google Voice is the ability to control who the service lets ring my phones. While I have all of my lines signed up for the Do Not Call registry, sadly that doesn’t prevent some unscrupulous companies from calling at dinner time. If it’s an annoying sales call, it can be blocked completely or thrown into a spam folder. If I don’t know who’s calling, I basically force them to announce who they are before I accept the call, or switch them to voice mail while I listen in to the call. If it turns out to be someone I actually want to speak with, I can press a button and join the call at any time before the caller hangs up. And unlike similar functions available from my home phone provider, AT&T, Google Voice is free. Callers can even be routed to different voice mail greetings depending on what group you assign them to (for instance, friends, family or business).

Since I sync my Mac OS X Address Book to Google (I love you too, Spanning Sync!), I have all of my contacts available in Google Voice. When I want to call someone, I click their name, hit “Call” and then pick which of my two numbers I want the call to be patched to. Google Voice rings me at that number and connects the call. And yes, that means free long-distance calls to the U.S. and Canada (and dirt-cheap rates to international numbers). There’s even a spiffy mobile browser version that allows the same trick, with calls patched to your cell phone when you’re out and about.

A new feature with the Google Voice upgrade allows SMS messages to my GV number to go to my cell phone, where I can respond to them (with the resulting text message appearing to come from my Google Voice number and not my cell phone number), or log in to my account on my web browser and text back & forth. Voice mail messages can be played as audio or read as a transcript (which, while nowhere near perfect yet, is pretty dang cool). You can set up Google Voice to send you an e-mail and/or SMS when you have a new voice mail, too.

And again, this is all free.

Of course, all good things have a catch, and in this case, it’s that Google Voice isn’t yet available to the general public… only to GrandCentral users like myself who choose to upgrade to the service. But that’s expected to change soon, and if a suggestions page is any indication, more cool features like faxing and maybe even an iPhone application could be in the near future. In the meantime, you can sign up for an invitation when things start to open up more…

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This entry was posted on Monday, April 6th, 2009 at 7:30 pm and is filed under Gadgets, Random Thoughts, Seen & Heard, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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