- Unified communications through one single phone number.
- Voice to text transcription of voicemails.
- Free calls to the US. Competitive rates for outgoing international calls.
- Free service, open to anyone.
- Many interesting features, including call recording, conferencing etc.
- Existing phone number cannot be ported to Google Voice. (Update: this is changing soon)
- Available only for users in the US, as calls cannot be forwarded abroad.
- Outgoing calls cannot be recorded.
The greatest thing about this service is the possibility to unify your communication needs – be called on different phones through one single phone number. Upon registration, you get a phone number from Google, which your contacts can use to call up to six of your phones and contact channels. Configuration, like forwarding etc. can be done on your phone itself.
The cost is interesting. Outgoing calls to US numbers are free. This is an improvement on GrandCentral, which only allowed you to receive calls. You can use the Google Voice service to make international calls to mobile and landline phones at very competitive rates. These are among the cheapest in the industry, hovering around a couple of dollar cents per minute for popular destinations.
The other great thing about the service is voice transcription. Google Voice is to voicemail what Gmail is to email. Google Voice transcripts your voice messages into text messages, allowing you to read them. This means that you no longer have to listen to the voice messages in order – this requires some patience, doesn’t it? You don’t even need to listen to them at all if you don’t want to. Treat them as text messages. This also implies that you can search, sort, save, forward, copy and paste the voice messages. Now, the big question on the efficiency of voice-to-text transcription arises. As you know, since human speech is so varied in accent, pronunciation and intonation, ambiguity always arises during transcription. While certain errors can be tolerated, others might turn a whole world upside down. Imagine ‘can’t’ being written as ‘can’! This is something to bear with.
You can have call conferences with the service. Up to 4 persons can talk at the same time. That is, you have to get the four persons call you and they can all be housed into the call.
The call recording feature is very nice. By pressing a single button (digit 4) on an incoming call, you can start the recording of the call, and stop it on a new press of the same button. This is great for business people and especially podcasters. However, since the service is more focused on the incoming side of calls, recording outgoing calls isn’t possible (yet?).
This service gets you started with a brand new number, and, inconveniently for some, you cannot port your existing phone number to it. Those who have been building up habit, trust and reachability upon one number will have to leave that number behind if they switch to Google Voice. (Update: this is changing soon, as Google is working on number portability)
Also calls cannot be forwarded beyond the US, and it works only with numbers in the US. This is a major limitation, and I hope the service gets extended to the whole world.
Other features include the screening of callers, listening before taking a call, call blocking, sending and receiving SMS, voicemail notifications and other related features, directory assistance, group management, and call switching.
In order to get a Google Voice number, you need to request an invitation. Go to the Google Voice invitation page and submit your email address. Some time later, you will receive an email requesting you to register. As I write this, only US residents are being given numbers. Google say they are working on numbers for other people.