- invitation to google voice (you could be waiting for weeks to receive your official invite from Google, but its worth the wait! If you need access ASAP, shoot me a message @WebbESQ and I will fwrd a "friend invite")
Google Voice (formerly GrandCentral) is a telecommunications service by Google launched on March 11, 2009. The service provisions a U.S. phone number, chosen by the user from available numbers in selected area codes, free of charge to each user account. Inbound calls to this number are forwarded to other phone numbers of the subscriber. Outbound calls may be placed to domestic and international destinations by dialing the Google Voice number or from a web-based application. Inbound and domestic outbound calls (including calls to Canada, Alaska and Hawaii) are free of charge, while international calls are billed according to a schedule posted on the Google Voice website.
The service is configured and maintained by the user in a web-based application, styled after Google's e-mail service, Gmail. Users must have an established U.S. telephone service to activate Google Voice. Users must configure this and optionally, additional phone numbers that ring simultaneously when the Google Voice number receives a call. The user may answer and receive the call on any of the ringing phones. Incoming calls to the number, any, all or none of the user's configured phones may be rung simultaneously. Based on the calling number, or contact group (e.g., Family, Friends, Work), or on time of day (e.g., disabling a home phone during business hours and routing calls to mobile or business number), individual numbers may be configured to ring. Google Voice provides additional features such as voicemail, call history, conference calling, call screaning, blocking of unwanted calls, and voice transmission to text of voicemail messages. Details below...
Every new voicemail is automatically transcribed into text and delivered to your Google Voice inbox as well as your e-mail inbox. While this feature can be turned off, I have no idea why anybody would want to do that. In fact, this is the biggest time saver ever. I am a big e-mail person, and I do in fact prefer e-mail over voice mail, because I can scan an e-mail inbox much quicker and pick out the relevant and important messages, than I can scan my voice mail system. Now, every voice mail is just another e-mail and can be scanned as rapidly as other messages. Besides, I NEVER check voicemail!
How accurate is the transcription? Well, this is the first version of Google Voice with transcription, so my expectations weren't too high. But - in my opinion - that doesn't impact the usefulness of this feature. All I want is the ability to quickly scan through a full inbox and identify the important messages, and for that purpose the accuracy and quality of the transcription is easily sufficient.
One interesting aspect is that in the Google Voice web-based UI the confidence of the transcription is indicated by a change in the text color (see above screenshot), and the words in black were indeed all correct. This is a very helpful way to present the transcription.
The Google Voice phone number supports SMS text messages as well. You can also send SMS through the web interface, and you have access to a full log of incoming and outgoing SMS through the UI:
Conference Calling* (personal fav)
With Google Voice, instead of having to provide people with a dial-in number and access code for a conference calling system, I can now set up a conference call and simply ask all parties to call my Google Voice number. Once I am on the call with one person and the second caller dials the same number, I can simply press '5' and connect them to the same call. This is incredibly useful!
Google Voice also offers international calls, and the process to load some money into your voice account is pretty easy. I was able to place an international call to a colleague by using the Call button in the web interface and the call was immediately established. A female computer voice informed me that the charge for this call would be 19¢ per minute, and I was connected right away. The voice quality was good, although the connection was a bit choppy on one of the test calls - but that is typical of most VoIP systems. After the completion of the call, it immediately shows up in your outgoing call log with the cost of the call, and any call that is not answered is also not charged.
The same rate of 19¢ per minute was charged to both calls to a mobile number in Austria and to a land-line number. It is still quite a bit cheaper than the $1.49 that Verizon is charging per minute, or the $1.70 that AT&T is charging. In fact, it is probably more akin to Skype costs. However, both Verizon and AT&T offer a world-wide value calling plan that charges a monthly fee of $3-5 and then the rate drops to 9¢ per minute. Bottom-line: if you make the occasional international call, Google Voice is a very good deal, but if you need to make calls to one particular country frequently it may still make sense to check with your land-line provider to see if you can't get a calling plan that gets you a rate that is even lower. Of course, Google Voice is fully integrated with Google Contacts, so you can type a name into the "Call" or "SMS" box and it will present phone numbers from your contacts. Likewise, if you go to the Contacts tab in Google Voice, there are now "call" and "sms" buttons next to each phone# stored for any of your contacts.
Also, the new Call Widgets in Google Voice make it even easier to add a "Call Me" button to your blog (still haven't decided if I am going to use that feature or not, lol).
To sum it up, it may get "tight" on Skype........ Hello Google Voice!