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What Does Google Voice Do For You?

written by: Brian Nelson•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 4/30/2010

Google voice offers people a virtual phone number that can be used in numerous ways. Learn more...

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    What Is Google Voice

    A few years ago, Google purchased the techie-beloved Grand Central. Then, they called it a beta, shutdown signups, and did nothing for over two years. Finally, the product formerly known as Grand Central emerged from the wilderness of Google Labs to eventually be reborn as Google Voice. The current version of Google Voice is similar in many ways to its predecessor and most users, those lucky enough to have had accounts already, that is, found no difficulty making the transition to Google Voice. In the process, Google Voice became my most favorite new product since Microsoft OneNote.

    What exactly does Google voice do? That is an excellent question. At first glance, Google Voice is a glorified virtual telephone forwarding service. However, upon closer examination, looking at Google Voice is like looking into the future of telephone service.

    At its core, Google Voice is a virtual telephone. New users get a new telephone number to use with Google Voice. The phone number connect to the Google Voice system and into the user’s account. What happens next depends upon how the user sets up the account. In the basic setup, calls made to the Google Voice phone number get forwarded to a regular in-real-life, or IRL phone that rings like any other phone call.

    google-voice-setup What makes Google Voice so powerful is that the number calls get forwarded to can be changed depending upon the user’s needs. While pretty neat, that is hardly the future of telephone service. Most phone plans by regular phone and cable companies offer call forwarding. What Google Voice offers that they do not is an ability to customize when and where individual calls get forwarded.

    For example, Google Voice can be set to forward all calls from members of the Family group directly to the user’s cell phone. Business calls can be set to ring at the user’s desk from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and then to the cell phone between 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM and finally set to Do Not Disturb after 8:00 PM. Of course things can go differently on weekends or holidays. Forwarding can also be adjusted manually whenever needed.

    If the caller is going to get your voicemail, Google Voice gives you the ability to customize your greetings. Calls from your friend’s numbers can hear, “Yo, this is T-Dog you know what to do at the noise, Sucker." Calls from work or business associates, on the other hand can hear, “This is James. I can’t come to the phone right now so if you would leave your name…"

    Best of all, Google Voice comes with the call screening options that should have been available on regular phones for years if the phone companies didn’t make so much money selling phone lists, directories, and the like. Calls can be screened based on their caller ID information, including whether or not there is any caller ID on the call. Those who refuse to enable caller ID can be directed to voice mail, disconnected, or given the opportunity to record their name so that you can decide whether or not to take their call. So long ALL telemarketers, not just the ones who haven’t found a loophole pretending to be doing surveys or non-profit organizations who call over and over again to thank you for your donation (and ask for more money).

    Beyond the ability to act as a person’s own automated switchboard (Do you really need any more reason to get Google Voice?) there are other features as well.

    Voicemails left on Google Voice can be transcribed and sent to the user as an email so that they can be reviewed even when the user’s phone is off or set to not ring. In addition, Google Voice phone numbers are configured to receive text messages which can also be forwarded to the user’s phone or email.

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    Make Calls With Google Voice

    The above features are all free. Of course, Google gets its ads in there, particularly if you view your messages online or get them in your Gmail account.

    However, Google is also attempting to make money another way with the service. Placing outgoing calls via Google voice is free, with the exception of International calls (Canada is free too.) To make calls to other countries, you purchase calling credits. Still the prices are reasonable and the other features make it as worthwhile a service as is offered online. As an added bonus, this might be the one area where there is no Google versus Microsoft battle.

    It used to be that signing up for an invitation to Google Voice or GrandCentral was a waste of time. That is no longer the case with Google opening up new waves of users from time to time. So, sign up for your invite today. You won’t regret it.