Google has been hit-or-miss recently (Google Wave, anyone?) However, one of its recent unheralded successes has been Google Voice. While Google Voice has had a tumultuous history on the iPhone, it has recently matured into a very easy-to-use, full-featured Voice addition.
While Google Voice is not a replacement for a phone service (it does not transmit voice calls as Skype and other VoIP services to), it is intended to *accentuate* your existing phone service. You can, for example, use Google Voice as a work phone, and forward all of your calls to your cell.
Google Voice acts as a central repository for your phone numbers. The idea works like this: you give everyone the same number (your Google Voice number), then whenever someone calls it, all of your phones ring at one time. You can set rules for the phone numbers, too. For example, when a Work contact calls you outside of work hours, your phone won’t ring.
You can feel safe giving your phone number to everyone, because Google Voice allows you to screen all of your calls. The service asks the caller’s name, and then asks you if you want to answer the phone. It will remember your choices, too — if your Mom’s contact number is in your address book, it won’t bug her with the prompt.
You can also block phone numbers. When you block numbers, a “disconnected number” sound plays for the caller, leading the caller to believe that the number has been disconnected.
Google Voice will also transcribe voicemails for you. If someone leaves you a voicemail, you can read it as a text message or as an email. While the transcriptions are not always accurate — and sometimes are actually quite funny — it can be useful in a very general way. The transcription service is most useful when trying to glean little droppings of information, such as times, phone numbers, or emergency-scanning.
Another cost saving that Google Voice brings to users is free texting. While if you send text messages through your mobile phone, you will be liable for text message fees (check with your carrier for more information), if you have a smartphone, you can send and receive text messages over data. Conceivably, you could cancel your expensive Unlimited texting plan and solely use Google Voice for text messages.
Even if you do not use Google Voice on a smartphone, free texting can be very useful. You can send a friend a text message telling him that you’re about to leave work, text your wife to ask her how her day is going, or receive a text from your boss asking you to come to his office, all from the comfort of your own computer.
Google Voice is free, so it’s worth trying. Even if you don’t like it, you won’t be out any money. Like all Google services, it will integrate with all of your other Google accounts, such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs, so you can seamlessly share information.