Monday, October 5, 2009

Google Voice Service

I've been using Google Voice since it was called GrandCentral and I find it useful even with the limitations that Google Voice has which GrandCentral did not have.

As many services by Google, Google Voice is an ever changing product so one of the things that GrandCentral offered which Google Voice didn't offer has already been addressed. The feature that I'm referring to is free calling to Canada. When Google Voice was first launched, if I remember correctly, calling Canada was approximately $0.01 per minute. GrandCentral allowed for the forwarded numbers to be Canadian numbers, however Google Voice currently does not allow this.

Google Voice grandfathered users of GrandCentral so that any Canadian numbers that they have in GrandCentral were automatically migrated to Google Voice. However, once the Canadian number is migrated, no changes can be done to the number. One of the things that this means is that Canadian numbers cannot have associated ring schedules.

The first thing to note is that Google Voice is associated with an e-mail address. When you create your Google Voice account, you are prompted for an e-mail address. BE VERY CAREFUL WHICH E-MAIL ADDRESS YOU ENTER. Once entered, you pick the US area code that you want for your Google Voice number and you are given a phone number from that area code. You won't be able to easily change your associated e-mail address. You will have to contact Google via their online support page and ask them for assistance if you want them to change the e-mail address associated with your Google Voice account.

In order to use your Google Voice invite (since Google Voice is available based on "invites" only), you will need access to a US proxy server. The reason for this is that Google has limited the sign-up process so that it works with US IP addresses only. During the registration process, you will also need a US phone number that Google can verify via an automated process. After registering for Google Voice, there is no US IP address restriction on which country you can log in from.

Google Voice has a lot of features. The 2 features that I use most is making long distance calls (Canada/US) for free and sending free SMS to Canada/US mobile numbers. I will also sometimes use their conditional call forwarding.

The free long distance calling to Canadian/US phone numbers works like a callback service. Google has some Google Voice clients for specific phones but I generally use their webpage to initiate the callback service. I log into my Google Voice account and I enter the phone number that I want to call and I select from my list of forward numbers which phone I want to take the call on. When I click on "Call", the phone that I selected from my list of forward numbers will ring (call display will show the Google Voice number). When I pick up the call, Google Voice will call the other number and connect the call together. The recipient will see your Google Voice number. The only cost to the Google Voice user is the cost of receiving the call. If the Google Voice user has unlimited incoming calls, he/she doesn't pay anything for the call.

The sending/receiving of SMS works with Canadian phone numbers and US phone numbers only. It does not work with SMS notification systems like MSN, Skype, Twitter, etc. so you won't be able to receive an SMS from a non-mobilephone system..

I use the conditional call forwarding by forwarding a local number to my Google Voice number (long distance charges may apply to forward to the Google Voice US number). Depending on the caller ID of the number calling me, Google Voice routes the call to ring (forward the call) to whatever forwarded number(s) I've configured. For example, let's say that I'm in the US and I want my friends and family to be able to reach me but no one else. I would then set the numbers in my "friends" and "family" category to forward to the US number that I'm using while in the US but all other numbers outside of the "friends" and "family" category to forward to one of the other numbers that I've set as being a forwarded number. For telemarketers, I can even set it so that they receive a message saying that the number which they've dialed is not correct.

There is also a "call me" Google Voice widget similar to the alpha Vonage Me widget/webpage. I tried the call me Google Voice widget (and the Vonage Me service) but don't actually use it except in special cases since I personally feel that it encourages telephone spam and there isn't any filter based on contacts.

Google has a blog specific for Google Voice (like many of their other products/services). In their blog, they discuss the existing and new features of Google Voice. Their Google Voice blog can be found *HERE*

As of today, you can set the forwarding numbers to be US phone numbers, GoogleTalk, and Gizmo VoIP numbers. You cannot set the forwarding numbers to an international number or services like Skype or another Google Voice number.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my review on Google Voice, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

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