What’s all the hype about Google Voice?

What’s all the hype about Google Voice?

If you haven’t tried Google Voice, you may be confused as to what Google Talk does vs Google Voice. It seems that if they were re-created now, the names should be reversed – but they’re not. To add to this, they can be used together to create something that seems even better! Let’s go through this and see what we can do to make sense of it.

If you haven’t tried Google Voice, you may be confused as to what Google Talk does vs Google Voice. It seems that if they were re-created now, the names should be reversed – but they’re not. To add to this, they can be used together to create something that seems even better! Let’s go through this and see what we can do to make sense of it.

What you need

To use either service, you must have a Google account. You may use your existing GMail account, or use another email address to create a Google account, then use them. However, your email address doesn’t need to end in @gmail.com for it to be a Google account,

Obtaining a Voice account

I recently started using Google Voice, and really like its features. For starters, Google Voice gives you a phone number of your choosing for use with the service, which is currently free. As of the time of this writing, they are offering a lot of numbers in the 420 exchange for the 585 area code. Choosing a number can be almost as fun as using the service, as you can provide letters, words, and numbers that you want to appear somewhere in your ideal phone number. Once you settle on a number, you’re good to go. An alternative is to port your mobile number to Voice, and obtain a new number with your carrier. By default, porting your number causes your carrier to cancel your account, and charge you any early termination fees that may apply. You can simply call them up and ask them to re-activate with a new number.

Now what?

Now that you have your number, what’s the benefit? First, it’s a centralized voice mailbox. This is the feature that I like the most! With my Android powered phone, or an iPhone (likely any phone, since it’s the carrier that does it) you can disable your carrier voicemail system, and have all calls you don’t answer forwarded to Google Voice. Voice then records incoming voicemails, and will optionally transcribe the voice message to text that you can read. It’s not perfect, but you can get a sense for what the voicemail is about without even listening to it, which is great for checking voicemail in a meeting! To access the voicemail, you can go to https://voice.google.com and log in with your Google account. Your inbox will list them visually, where they can be played, reorganized, forwarded to others via email, etc. This is much easier than the traditional voicemail interface that says, “You have 10 new messages. Press 6 for the next message”. You have no idea what they’re all about, or who you should respond to first, without listening to them all and likely taking notes.

Your Voice inbox can also hold text messages. With this feature, you have the ability to send and receive texts using your new Voice number, and they all appear in your Inbox. By adjusting the settings, text messages can optionally be forwarded to your email, where you can reply directly, and Google will convert that back to text and send it as a reply.

Further features include the ability to ring multiple numbers as once on incoming calls. Callers just dial your Google Voice number, and it can ring your home phone, work phone and cell phone. Which ever one you answer on is where you talk, and the callers know no difference. If you don’t answer, the call goes to voicemail, which can play a customized greeting, depending on who is calling you. Calls can even be screened, just like with the old answering machines, you can hear the voicemail being recorded, and answer the call at any time to interrupt the message. To dial out with Voice, click the “call” button, type the phone number, then choose what phone to ring you on. Once you answer your phone, Google completes the call by forwarding you to the number you chose – and the recipient sees your Google Voice number as the caller id! Call blocking, conference calls, low international calling rates and more are also features of Google Voice.

What if you like all the above, but you’re not excited about waiting to hear the voicemails at your computer? Three solutions: you can dial in and access your voicemail with a pin number, install the Google Voice app on your cell phone, or have the voicemails forwarded as an email attachment. With the app, you can read or play your voicemails and send/receive text messages with your Voice number, just like on the web interface. If someone leaves you a voicemail, you get notified immediately.

Thinking of further uses

Since there is an Android app and an iOS app, an idea sparked in my head. My son and daughter both have iPod touch’s, and a Google Apps email account. I installed Google Voice onto their iPod’s and signed them up for a Voice number. With this app, as long as their iPod’s have an Internet connection, they can send and receive text messages to anyone else for free – with their own number! If they’re with me, the iPod’s can be tethered to my Android phone and they can text on the go, too. They can also click to make phone calls, but the call must be completed by a real phone they’re near. Once they open the Google Voice app, they choose the contact, click call, then choose what phone they want to actually talk on. After clicking “Home”, the home phone rings. The call is completed after they answer the home phone, and the recipient of the call sees their Google Voice number on caller id.

OK, So What’s Google Talk?

Google Talk is a chat, voice and video service much like Skype. There is a client that installs onto a Windows computers (sorry Mac and Linux users), but you can also open your GMail account, and chat as well as make computer-to-computer voice and video calls with the appropriate plug-in for your web browser. All of this works with Linux and Mac, too. You may have noticed in your GMail that they are currently offering free domestic calls from your computer. This brings some of the features of Voice to Talk, blurring the lines. The difference is, when you call via Talk, it’s Google’s phone number that’s presented as Caller ID, and your friends can’t call you back. This is Google Talk.

Voice and Talk get married

As promised in the first paragraph, Google Voice can be used with Google Talk. In your voice settings, you can choose to forward your inbound calls to Google Talk, which you answer in a web browser that’s logged in to GMail! When making outbound calls with Voice, you can also choose to ring your Talk account and/or a real phone. Answer that, and call anyone in the US for free – even if you’re not in the USA! – all with Google Voice and Google Talk, over the Internet, free.

Thinking even more

For those out there that are as geeky as I am, you’ve already thought of the next step. If you have your own Asterisk 1.8 based PBX, it can connect to Google Talk, so people cal call your sytem over the Intetrnet. As we saw above, Google Voice gives you a free number for inbound calls, which you can forward to Google Talk. End result? Free inbound and outbound calling with Google Voice on your own Asterisk system. Now that’s something to go try immediately!