Google Voice got its start as a phone service called GrandCentral, which the search giant bought in 2007
- Powerful suite of communications tools, free, you won't need to install software to get started
- Uses a US number, invite only, configuration options can be confusing at times
Google Voice has so many features that we've barely scratched the surface of what it can do. Is it worth trying? Absolutely. Since it's free, you've got nothing to lose by giving it a whirl.
Google Voice: Getting Started
Since Google Voice is a browser-based service, you won't need to install software on your Mac or Windows PC (or mobile phone) to get started. Like most Google apps, Voice has a clean, no-frills interface that's easy to learn. The Settings page provides easy access to the rich set of phone tools.
The setup experience is best via a traditional browser on a desktop or laptop PC. You can access all the core features via a smartphone at www.google.com/voice/m, but the mobile interface is shoehorned into a smaller screen. We found Google Voice very easy to navigate on a Windows laptop running the Google Chrome browser, but a real challenge using a Samsung Rant phone.
To get started, you'll need to enter one or more phones to your Google Voice account.
The setup process does raise security concerns. What's to prevent you from adding any phone number you want? Well, once you've entered a number, Google Voice calls it. An automated voice prompts you to enter a two-digit verification code (eg, 80).
We added three phone numbers, two mobile and one home. Despite a couple of verification hiccups, the process was easy. What went wrong? With two of the lines (one home, one mobile), we had to verify the numbers twice. After the first tries, Google Voice posted this message in my browser: "We could not verify your phone. Please try again." We may have hung up too early after entering the digits on the first try, but we're not sure.
Google Voice: Call Routing Good, Transcripts Bad
Google Voice's flexibility is fantastic. You can route incoming calls from your Google number to one or more phones, or send them directly to voicemail.
You also can record custom greetings for individuals or groups, such as family, friends, or co-workers. If you're a Gmail or Google Talk user, your contacts will automatically appear on your Google Voice site. Also, any updates made to your contacts in Google Voice (such as changing a phone number) will appear in your other Google services as well.
Importing contacts from non-Google services isn't as easy, however, and there's room for improvement here. To transfer an address book from, say, Yahoo Mail or Microsoft Outlook, you'll need to export the data to a CSV file and import it into Google Voice. While this isn't too difficult for those who know their way around a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel, it's not exactly seamless either. You can only import 3000 contacts at a time, which shouldn't be a problem for most users.
Unfortunately, Voicemail Transcripts is one of those features that looks great on paper but isn't ready for the real world. Here's how it works: When you receive a voicemail, Google Voice automatically transcribes it into text. These transcriptions appear in your inbox, and the service will email or text them to you if you want. Problem is, the transcriptions are often full of inaccuracies, a fact that Google admits in its tutorial.
Here's my transcription of a message I left for myself:
"Hey, Bob, just calling to give you directions to the meeting. Take the 101 exit at Fallbrook and turn right. Then take a left on Downey. The Westlake Building is at 101 Downey, and it has a green awning in front. You can't miss it. Okay, see you at five. Bye"
Here's Google Voice's transcription:
"hey bob just calling to give you directions to the meeting take the 101 accidents all work in turn right then take a left on down the the Westlake building is at 101downy and it has a green on tenyon front you can't miss it okay see you would 5 bye"
As you can see, Voicemail Transcriptions can't be trusted for relaying important information such as driving directions. So in many cases you're better off listening to the original voicemail, which, of course, is easy to access as well.
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