just one more geek in a sea of austin techies

October 23, 2011

Enhance your phone for free via Google Voice

I've been using Google Voice since mid-2009 -- not long after Google acquired the company that originated the service, GrandCentral.  Google Voice adds features to most any phone not already linked to an IP-based phone service.  Because it's been around for several years and has proven to be dependably good, useful and free, I'm often surprised when I mention "Google Voice" to tech-savvy people and get blank stares in return.  Why haven't more people caught on to this under-appreciated service?...

Google Voice - What Is It?
Google Voice (let's just call it "GV") is an internet phone service similar to Vonage, AT&T digital phone or your local cable operator's phone service.  Calls to your GV phone number are routed over the internet to your existing phone number.  What makes GV different from most competitors is that GV doesn't provide you with a phone or a phone line -- you need to already have a home or mobile phone with its own service and phone number.  GV simply forwards your GV phone number to your actual phone number.

GV doesn't give me a phone or a line?  What's the point?!?
Ah -- this is the core of the reason GV is so under-appreciated.  People think of "phone service" only as providing an actual phone link/line.  Since GV works by forwarding calls to an existing phone you still need a traditional cell phone or home phone service.  What gets overlooked is why you would want GV (or anyone) to act as a middleman for your phone service:

  1. Your phone number stays with you
    Ever use an email account provided by your internet service provider?  What happened to that email account when you changed providers?  You lost it, and you had to contact everyone you wished to stay in email contact with to tell them what your new email address was.

    Considering that email addresses are virtual addresses (so your actual email storage can live anywhere), this limitation is dumb.  Your email address should follow you, not the other way around.  Services like GMail, HotMail and Yahoo Mail are popular in large part for just this reason -- they make your email account independent from your internet service provider.

    With internet-based phone services, phone numbers are now as virtual as email addresses.  Your phone number should follow you as easily as your email account does.  To a great degree this is now true with mobile phones since, in most cases, you can carry your number with you.from one provider to the next.  By using GV, though, you can have a number that is truly independent of your service provider, just like your GMail/HotMail/Yahoo Mail account is.

  2. Add standard IP phone service features without the IP phone service price
    GV gives you commonly paid-for IP phone service features for free:
    Force certain numbers to go directly to voicemail?  Yes.
    Block that one telemarketer that just won't give up?  No problem.
    Send incoming calls to multiple different phones at once?   Of course you can.
    Ring your phone only during certain times of the day?  Just say when.
    Set different personalized greetings for different incoming callers?   Easy.
    ...and a lot more.

  3. Add some unexpected options for free
    Besides the expected IP phone service features, GV offers features one might not expect or would often have to pay extra for:
    Start recording a call at any point during a call?  Just press '4'.
    Listen in as people leave voicemails?  Sure -- and you can press "2" to "pick up".
    Force "no caller ID" callers to tell you who they are before you decide whether or not to answer?  Certainly.  
    Block "recognized phone spammers"?  GV maintains a list of known phone spammers and will block their calls if you allow GV to do so.
    Turn local-only land line service into nationwide long-distance service for free?  
    Yes - just call your own GV number to then call out to any phone in the US and Canada for free.
    Send an email notification and/or text (SMS) notification when you get a voicemail and include a (somewhat accurate, often humorous) transcription of the voicemail?  Done and done.

  4. ...and add one or two really unexpected options for free
    GV opens up a few opportunities in certain special cases:
    Enable SMS service (texting) on a wifi-only tablet device.
    Forward a voicemail recording to someone as an email file attachment.
    On Android devices, read transcripts of voicemails without need to open email or an app (via free GV widget). 
    Enable 3-way conference calling for free even if your phone service does not include (or charges extra for) the option.

I can't stress enough how much of an enhancement Google Voice can be for "connected" users.  Even those who do not use the internet will benefit from enabling GV's "spam blocker" options and handing out their GV number instead of their "direct" number (entering contests, making donations, etc.)

See simple examples of GV features in action via a series of short (under 1 minute) videos, then sign up and enjoy the service as much as I have these past few years:

(You're welcome.)

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