Google Voice goes live

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Google move into the phone network has now gone public.

Google move into the phone network has now gone public. You can join up without needing an invitation from http://google.com/voice

Google Voice has some compelling features. It’s not just a phone number and voicemail provided online.

You can link multiple landline and mobile numbers to your Google Voice phone number. It someone calls your Google Voice number then several of your nominated phones will ring, whichever one you answer will accept the call automatically. That means you can give out a single number and pick up at home, work or on the road.

If you don’t answer the voicemail service doesn’t just record a message. Google Voice attempts to transcribe the voice message into text and email it to you. You can also listen in and screen calls while someone is leaving a voicemail message then ‘pick up’ the call, just as if you were listening on a physical answering machine.

For outgoing calls, Google Voice connects calls by calling one of your nominated phones (landline or mobile) then connecting you to the other party. There doesn’t seem to be a way to call from your computer to a phone number – that’s a pity.

There’s no charge by Google for calls to US phone numbers.

Beyond the USA, call rates are cheaper than Skype though Google doesn’t have the ‘all you can eat’ subscription rates for regular users. For occasional callers the Google Voice rates are a little cheaper. For example a call to the UK is 2.1 / 25.3 cents (landline / mobile) per minute on Skype compared to 2.0/18 cents on Google Voice.

There are also text/SMS services including SMS to email so incoming text messages end up in your Inbox. Plus caller blocking, conference calls and a mobile application (iPhone and Palm).

The web interface is similar to the Gmail look and feel. It’s nice to be able to see all your call/text history plus settings in a full size page with extensive help instead of a tiny screen and cryptic short help notes.

Google Voice is officially available to US users only – though really it’s limited to anyone who can access a verifiable US phone number. Verification is done by Google Voice making a test call to a US landline or mobile number and ‘listening’ for a two digit code to be entered by the person answering.

Given the setup cost (free) it’s worth checking out Google Voice now especially if you want the widest choice of available US phone numbers.

There’s a lot of information available online – a Getting Started guide and feature videos.


Contacts list

The Google Voice contacts list is shared with Gmail and Google Talk.

You can import contact details from Outlook and other programs by exporting to a CSV file or individual vCard file then importing into Google.

It would be nice if the Google Calendar sync (which syncs an Outlook calendar with Google Calendar) could be extended to do the same for the Contacts list. We can only hope.


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