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May 09 2011

Google Voice Review

I have taken the plunge. Sprint gave me the opportunity to switch my phone number over to a sort of Sprint managed version of the Google Voice service and I have been running it through the paces over the last week.

Funny thing about being number 3 in the cell phone wars. It makes you a lot more willing to take some risks. I certainly cannot picture Verizon or AT&T allowing Google to take over control of the phone line of one of their subscribers. Sprint however, has little to lose and in the wake of the potential absorption of T Mobile by AT&T they are looking for ways to make themselves more valuable and interesting to their customers. I certainly think this collaboration is a VERY interesting development.

Setting up and switching was very simple. I registered to be notified by Sprint when it was available and got the note a couple of days ago. I went here and set up a Google voice mail account, linked it to my Gmail account and chose the option to transfer my Sprint phone number to it. Thirty seconds later I was prompted to enter a pin on my cell phone when it rang and voila, it was all set up.

OK…not completely set up, but the telecom stuff was done and the rest of it is in the tender hands of my preference files.

Google Voice serves as a sort of nerve center for your communications. Once it is rolling your first decision is to set which phones it rings on an incoming call. You could have it default to your cell phone or home phone and it is very easy to set it up to ring several different phones either concurrently or based on what you are doing.

One of my key goals with Google voice was to be able to route my cell phone number simply and painlessly to my office line while I was at my desk. I loathe being on my phone in the office and having my cell phone chirping at me. Unfortunately, there is one epic fail in this area. Google voice does not currently support extensions. If you have to go through a phone tree of any sort once you dial the number, Google voice will simply not currently do this.

It has obviously been asked for multiple times because when you go to their site to post feedback it is one of the topics you can just agree is necessary.

Even given this limitation, the service is still very powerful. On the Sprint version, When your phone rings, you can still see the incoming caller ID. In addition, when you answer the call you are given a screening message with a name or phone number and you have the opportunity to answer the call (press 1) or send the call to voice mail. Another nice touch here, if you take the call on a phone and need to transfer it to another, you can press the star key and it will transparently transfer to another line you have set up. This is great if you start a call and need to move it to your cell phone so you can walk out the door. This happens without any notification to the person you are talking to.

The real power of the system is in the management of calls and texts. If you do send someone to voicemail, whether intentionally or because you were unable to answer, Google applies their text recognition to the voice mail. You can view this within the web page, or application for Android or iPhone, or have it sent to you as a text or email. The text recognition software is much better than the last service I used, although not quite as humorous!

Treat your voicemail like email...

You can also have multiple voicemail messages recorded and they can be cued based on individuals incoming calls, or by groups of contacts. I have set up a standard voicemail for default messages, a separate one that my daughters get when they call, and a further one for my wife. It is also easy to have a couple of prerecorded messages that you can switch between based on your needs rather than having to record them from scratch all the time.

The beauty of this is that it really puts the control in your hands for how you handle your messages. I love having the ability to be in my office on a phone call and look at the text rendering of the message as I am finishing up a current call. You can even click on a link within Google voice and it will initiate a return call on any of your supported phones for you. Your phone will actually ring in and when you pick it up it is ringing out to the number you have chosen.

You also can put yourself in a “do not disturb” mode that puts all calls into voice mail if you are in an important meeting , or choose to always send certain numbers to voicemail if you have someone you are REALLY trying to avoid. The beauty of this is that the DND mode is based on a time table, so if you tell it two hours, once that expires you are back to normal mode without having to change anything.

Google voice will also, by default, take over text functions of your phone as well. This can be a bit confusing if you do not deactivate the text functions of your phone as these will both be active. I had my phone actually resend some texts 12 hours later before I deactivated the app on my phone. You can choose within the Google Voice interface for it to not handle texts on a phone by phone basis, but the default is to take it over. User beware.

The upside of having Google handle all of these functions for you is having the record of these on your computer and having an efficient way to generate and receive text messages from your computer. I love being able to shoot quick text messages out to my team members from my computer keyboard while I am in the office.

CONCLUSIONS

The plus sides of Google Voice FAR outweigh the downsides as far as I am concerned. The handling of multiple phone lines and the ability to see what has happened on your phone in detail make it a much more useful device. Tying the text functions into the same interface also keep you organized and focused.

If you like the way your phone functions now than you may have absolutely no reason to flirt with Google on the phone front. If, however, you are looking for an extension of that functionality, if you are a small business trying to look bigger or your phone situation is unstable than Google Voice is brilliant. It adds features that you would pay thousands of dollars to a company like Cisco for to manage those functions.

The best part? If you are not going to make international calls than the service is absolutely free. A little bit of credit on the account and you can make cheap international calls as well, a la Skype.

2 years ago, you could not have paid for this kind of functionality, and now…it is free! Viva la progress!

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