I upgraded my Grand Central account to Google Voice this week and I've been playing with the new features. Here are a few of my favorites.

The interface (not a favorite but thought I'd mention it)

The Google Voice interface will feel right at home if you're a Gmail user. There's an inbox, a history menu, trash, and a filter to show starred items, all of which are present in Gmail. The SMS view (more on this later) shows in threaded format which is one of the strongest features of Gmail. Overall, it's nice to see Google finally do something with the interface. The Grand Central UI was quite bad and while Google doesn't have the best user experience folks on staff they do a better job than most.

SMS voicemail notification with speech-to-text transcription

Transcribing voicemail to text has been around for a long time on other services (such as Vonage) so it's about time this feature come to Google. In your Google Voice settings you can set your preferences for how you want to be notified when you receive voicemail. You can have Google Voice send you an e-mail to any address, or have the service send you an SMS to the phone of your choosing. Or, you can do both.

Custom voicemail greetings

Google Voice supports custom voicemail greetings you can use to greet any type of caller. There's a default greeting for unknown callers or you can record your own greeting that will be played when someone you don't know calls. You can great groups and place people into groups in order to have everyone in the group receive the same greeting. Taking this further you can record custom greetings that map to Google Voice widgets. This allows you to place widgets on all of your Web sites and have callers receive a custom voicemail greeting when they use the widget to call you and you don't pick up the phone. Check out the widget in the sidebar to the right for a live example of this.

Make calls with your Google Voice number

There are several ways you can use your Google Voice number to place calls. The screenshot above shows one way this can be done using the Call button on the Google Voice homepage. You can also click phone number links in voicemail messages or missed calls, dial from your Google contacts list, or call your own Google Voice phone number and press 2 to enter a phone number to call. In all cases Google Voice will connect you to the other party displaying your Google Voice phone number on their caller ID. Making calls to numbers based in the United States is free. International calling is available but has a cost associated with it. The screenshot above shows an SMS button in addition to a Call button. Using the SMS button you can send short messages to any phone number by simply typing in the phone number and entering your message. Messages are limited to 160 characters.

Recipients of SMS messages can reply and their message will be sent to the SMS section of Google Voice as well as your mobile device. Interestingly, if someone replies to your SMS message you can continue using the Google Voice site to hold a conversation with them in much the same way you would threaded messages in Gmail.

Old standbys

Original features from Grand Central are still hanging around, such as call screening and live voicemail review which allows you to hear the caller's message and break in to accept the call. I've found doing this freaks people out but it's fun and useful.

Google Voice is currently only available to Grand Central users. I suppose Google wants to test the waters and ensure they have the infrastructure tightened up before letting the general public onto the service. That's not a bad idea considering Google has had a lot of recent service failures and downtime with Gmail.

Aaron West's Gravatar
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This entry was posted by Aaron West on March 26, 2009 at 9:25 PM. It was filed in the following categories: ColdFusion, iPhone, New Technology, Mobile & Devices. It has been viewed 10334 times and has 2 comments.

2 Responses to Quick Overview of Google Voice

  1. Lou Sesti

    I have a question about Google Voice (GV) that hopefully you will answer ... once I set the number for GV to ring to can I change that periodically as I may want to direct it to another number and then after that back to my first number, etc ???

  2. @Lou - Yes, you can. In fact, you can have your GV number ring multiple phones/numbers at the same time.