Google Voice Review | I got the golden ticket….

Last Thursday I opened up my GMail and found to my surprise that I had an invite to Google Voice. I didn’t have time to deal with it at that time, so I saved it as new until Thursday evening and spent some time then playing with it. I had put my address in the waiting list some time back because the premise behind Google Voice (former GrandCentral) is potentially very useful for me. I’m self employed, I work from home, from the car, I’m onsite, I’m at clients locations and I also have some bits of time at a location that has wireless access. For many years I’ve had several phones to check messages on, and if I forget, then…. find a message when I get in at 8 or 9 in the evening on the house phone. It’s difficult to manage and I want to change it, Google Voice may be the way to make that change….. right now I’m just testing the waters though. It did feel kind of like a Willy Wonka moment of sorts though seeing that invite in the inbox! Read on for more….

First off, the setup went VERY well…. I was able to get a number in my local area that contained my initials which I thought was pretty neat. Verification of the home and cell phones went well and setting up an outgoing voicemail message was easy and worked great. My first few test voicemails the transcriptions were absolutely fantastic.

Other voicemails I’ve received have had less then perfect transcriptions, but for the most part they’re passable. In the online interface you can tell the parts that they have lower confidence in since they’re printed with a shade of gray. You can also rate transcriptions of voicemail. Incoming, outgoing and missed calls are logged and you can also annotate calls (and voicemails.) I like that, it could give me a chance to put in details about what was discussed if I’m dealing with a call or caller that I feel as though I need to document more carefully what is talked about.

The transcriptions are relatively fast and I am definitely enjoying receiving a notification by email and text when I get a new voicemail. Given that they’re already doing the transcription side of things it WOULD be interesting to see an option to leave yourself a message ala Jott, which could then plugin to another service (like calendar or gmail or tasks) Now, you can of course jerry rig together a way to do it… for the cellphone you can cut off the option to automatically go into the voicemail menu and set a custom outgoing message for that number, but you still won’t be able to make it automatically add a calendar entry or send an email (okay you might could rig up an email filter, but that would be a kludge…. get out the duct tape!)

Of course, this is a free service, so…… don’t take the above as a complaint. Of course, you will pay for international calls, very good looking rates though. I don’t have the need to call internationally usually, but it looks like they have some of the best rates around. Yes mobile phones that you have are configured to land you in the “login” menu of your voice mail. You do have to enter a pin number (good default.) Also you can make outbound calls by logging in, pressing two and then dialing.

One thing that I thought was interesting is that with the call screening feature off (this is when you answer it announces who is calling and let’s you answer, listen in or send to voicemail) with the feature off for all or some of your callers their message will go to the voicemail of the first phone to answer (I wonder what happens if none of them have voicemail(?)) If I recall my telephony…. this may be something that they are stuck with due to the structure of call handling although it would be interesting to see a workaround for that which could bounce the caller back to the GV mailbox.

One problem that I’ve run into is that my number was not able to be reached by one local exchange. I tested on two lines, I tested both my and my brothers new Google Voice numbers (got them the same day.) Both gave a message along the lines of “we’re sorry but your call could not be completed, please try again.” I tried other numbers in the same prefix exchange and they worked (non google voice numbers) and I have also tried from several other cell/land lines and not seen anything similar. Unfortunately that would be the one contact that I had given my number to as my new number. I’ve sent two feedback items to Google on this, but it may just be a local phone switch needing an update/reboot (?)

So far that’s the big complaint…. Now for some less crucial ones. SMS messages – online services that do email to SMS gateway sending can’t get a message to you. This is one that I REALLY would like to see fixed. If this is about merging our communications media and simplifying with 1 number, then…. SMS email gateway inbound and MMS needs to happen in the near future.

I’m eager to see what future levels of integration they look at…. I think the idea of prowords to trigger a gmail message or calendar/task list item would be a good kind of integration and really start to rival some of the other services out there. In reality, this is a free product that is still in it’s beta stages and in this case, the beta label is probably more applicable than it has been with Gmail for the last however many years. It has great potential to change the way we use our phones (if not for the way cell phone calling plans may be pressured by this… I mean if your gv number is one of your “friends and family” do you really need to pick another 5 or 10 since that can be your outbound gateway to anywhere?)

Oh, another thought – although technically at this point in time the only kind of sipphone you can forward to is a gizmo5 number, I found a way to forward to most anything. With a gizmo5 free account you get the inbound gizmo5 number which you can find in your profile. You can also set gizmo5 to forward your incoming calls to skype, google talk or just about any other sip-phone or landline. So, I added my ekiga sip account in the gizmo5 setup, my gizmo5 number as a new phone at google voice, authenticated it and that seems to work pretty well. (My test call had about a 1 second lag – I’d like to test at some point and see if there’s less lag by doing gizmo5 directly… but that’s not a high priority for me right now.)


I had a chance to test out the following idea last night. Since Google Voice can forward calls to your gizmo number and since gizmo can forward all calls to either skype or another sipphone client – I decided to forward my gizmo calls to ekiga and test. I tested by “dialing out” via the Google Voice web interface where they first connect to your number (in this case ekiga) and then attempt to dial the receiving party. I tested this chain last night about 3 to 4 times and each time the call dropped mysteriously after about 30 seconds (not quite long enough to get to the voicemail beep – or if someone answered not quite long enough to explain what you’re doing.

So, today I did several tests taking one link o the chain out and went straight to my gizmo # (cut off all gizmo forwarding). This worked out fairly well and I’ve now had several successful calls this way. I don’t know if I had a call longer than 5 minutes, but I did have one that I thought was a bit longer (although I didn’t check the call timer.) It seems as though this is another angle that google voice could change things as I noticed that I was essentially using gizmo to call landlines without using gizmo credit. (Google voice calls my gizmo account, google voice calls the other person.)

–update 7-18-09 —

I’ve had a chance to make several calls now using the web interface at Google Voice. One thing that’s strange is that calls initiated this way do not make it into your placed/received/missed call log. You would think they would show up in the placed call log the same as if you dialed up your GV number and then pressed 2 and dialed someone else, but…. they simply don’t get recorded. That seems to be a strange oversight. Also, I’ve read that one of the reasons that some exchanges may not be able to call into the GV numbers is that the blocks of numbers were so recently acquired the phone systems equipment may not have been updated with the information to route calls to them. It’s the responsibility of the carrier that manages the exchange that is unable to call in to update their routing lists. This has nothing to do with it being a Google Voice number, but with it being a “brand new phone number”. Essentially these are phone numbers that didn’t exist 4 months ago.

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