I have been a user of the Grand Central service for a long time, but I didn’t switch over completely until Google relaunched the service as Google Voice. Google acquired Grand Central a couple of years back after which there was nothing but silence for a while. When they relaunched in March, the new service had a couple of nifty features, but what tipped it over for me was that the relaunch indicated that Google was firmly committed to the future of Google Voice. After all, you don’t want to go handing out a new phone number to people and then have to change it again if the service was discontinued.
Google Voice is a pretty unique service. It is like having your own personal PBX system for free. You get a phone number when you sign up for the service. Calls to this number can be routed to a different number (home, mobile, work etc.) or sent straight to voice mail based upon time of day, caller ID or rules that you set up.
Management of call routing, greetings, voice mail administration is where Google Voice shines. Instead of doing a full review, which I am sure you will find in other places, (like this one) let me just mention the couple of things it does very well for me.
I do a lot of calling out using Google Voice. If I’m in front of my computer, it is super easy for me to search for a name and hit Call on the Google Voice website. Google Voice calls my number first and then it calls the other party and establishes the connection. It might sound a little convoluted compared to just calling from your cellphone directly, but it isn’t – for two reason. One, I find searching for a number on Google Voice easier with the full keyboard of my MacBook (my cellphone is a Blackberry Pearl – yes, I could get a full keyboard Bold, but I like my cellphones small). Two, from GV, I will generally initiate the call from my land line giving me a better connection and the use of my landline handset.
Google Voice address book just uses my Gmail address book so there is no syncing involved. This integration was one of the features added when Google relaunched the service. Another new feature was international calling. US domestic calls are all free as is the rest of the service. International calls are cheap. India is 7 cents a minute. Czech Republic, where the wife is currently holidaying, is 3 cents a minute. The rates are all transparent. At this time, if you asked me how much I would pay for a call from my home land line to the Czech Republic, I wouldn’t know. I know the AT&T India rates are awful, because of which we have the Reliance Calling Card. But after Google Voice, I’ve stopped using Reliance too.
Another neat feature is voice mail transcription. It’s a little spotty though and more often than not I have to dial in to hear the voice mail and confirm what I read. I think the problem is that it transcribes American accents well but it can’t handle an Indian accent or Indian names. Voice to text is a tough ask anyway so I won’t take away any points on that.
Surprisingly, Google Voice does not have a mobile app. So I can’t use it from my cellphone when I am not near my MacBook. Well, I can, but I would have to call my GV number and then key in the number I want to call. Nobody’s going to want to do that. Which is quite a problem. I am going to great lengths to get folks to change my phone number in their address books from my cellphone to my GV number, but if they keep getting calls from me from the old number that creates a problem. Plus without the mobile app, it’s easier to just use Reliance for international calls when you are out and about than GV. The Reliance dialer for Blackberry just takes every call made to India on your Blackberry and routes it through their own service. (Note: Reliance mobile dialer is available only to business customers for some reason).
Overall, I find Google Voice to be a very useful service. And I don’t even use half the features. I hope they keep improving it. Meanwhile, my GV number is the only number I give out from now on. Umm…except when I’m in India when I need to have an Indian mobile. Unless…GV could offer the same service in India and allow me to map both numbers to the same account. Now that would be something.