An Introduction to Google Voice
By now you’ve probably heard of Google’s entry to the world of phones and phone numbers, Google Voice. The possibilities for using Google Voice are so expansive that it can seem daunting at first glance, so let’s get to the basics.
Before anything else, let’s talk basics: what is Google Voice? Google created a great 1-minute video introducing you to Google Voice:
For a more extensive introduction to some of the capabilities of Google Voice, I highly recommend Profhacker’s Introduction to Google Voice or Google’s Getting Started Guide.
As always, we need to ask the big question: Why should I use Google Voice? Here are a few thoughts:
- Powerful and simple voicemail: Even if you stick with your current mobile number, you can have your provider use Google Voice’s voicemail instead of the regular voicemail. This way you have online access to every voicemail and missed call instantly, and transcripts of the voicemails emailed and texted to you.
- One phone number, many contexts: If you’re like me, you have one mobile phone that you use for home and work. If you’re like me you get calls from donors, students, family, and friends, all at the same number and at all times of day. You can now give each group different voicemail recordings and, for example, forward all calls from students straight to voicemail during certain hours.
- Local number: When I moved to Gainesville, I kept my mobile number from my old city so I didn’t lose contact with friends and family back home. With Google Voice, I could choose the area code of my GV number, so I now have a phone number with a Gainesville area code that I can give out to students and local contacts.
- Web-based access to your phone: With Google Voice there is one web site where you can read & send texts and read & listen to voicemails. You don’t have to listen through your voicemails in any particular order, and even if you can’t listen to them, you can still read the (imperfect) transcript to get a general idea of the content of the message.
- (Currently free) calls from Gmail: For the entire year of 2011 you can use Gmail for outgoing and incoming calls, but if you have a Google Voice number you make and take those calls using your Google Voice account. This means when someone calls your Google Voice number, your Gmail account can ring as well; and when you call someone from Gmail, their caller ID will show your Google Voice number.
- Cheap international calls: Google Voice’s international rates are very competitive, and allow you to use your own phone to make the international calls.
So, what’s to keep you from using Google Voice? There are a few limitations that you’ll need to overcome:
- The work it takes to switch to a new number: It takes work to get everyone you know to start using a new cell phone number to communicate with you. Thankfully, Google just released Google Voice Number Porting, so if you’re outside of a 1- or 2-year cell phone contract (meaning you’re just paying by the month), you can port your cell phone number to Google Voice. You’ll probably need to re-sign-up for service, because once Google Voice takes your number, your cell provider will most likely cancel your old account. Once you sign up again, your cell phone provider will just automatically assign you a new, random number which no one ever needs to know; you can then direct your Google Voice number to ring at the new cell phone number. For more details, check out Lifehacker’s guide to What Google Voice Number Porting Actually Means for Your Cellphone.
- Setting up your phone: If you’re using an Android phone, setting up Google Voice on your phone. iPhone users will have to work a little harder, but it’s still pretty easy to set up Google Voice on your iPhone. Blackberry also has its own Google Voice app. If you’re using another smartphone, or a regular phone, it takes a little work to get everything connected, and some times it’s flat-out impossible to make the switch fully: for example, even if all of your incoming voice and text communication goes through Google Voice, it can be a pain to make it all go out through Google Voice. However, Lifehacker has posted an incredible guide on how to Get the Most Out of Google Voice on Your Non-Smartphone.
Ready to make the switch? Make sure to read the getting started guides above, and then head over to Lifehacker’s how-to guide for How to Ease Your Transition to Google Voice.
Are you already a Google Voice veteran? Check out these Lifehacker posts for more tips and tricks, and let us know your favorite uses for GV in the comments.