I’ve been using Google Voice since the end of April http://www.google.com/voice/. After seeing a Google Voice feature list I was sure it would address some of my specific issues with voicemail, as well as improve texting and add several other cool features. It did. I have also been trying to find better was to use the service and have also run into issues that make it hard to use.
What GV has “fixed”
For the past several years voicemail has become increasingly irritating as text messaging and email started to be more prevalent on mobile devices. If I had the choice between voicemail or an almost instant gratification text or email, I’m picking text almost every time. Dialing, waiting for a connection, waiting for VM to announce the date and time, then finally getting to listen to the message… ugh. Heaven forbid you need an older message that’s a couple weeks old and buried somewhere in there. So, for me, the main draw to Google Voice was the ability to transcribe a voicemail and have it emailed, skip all of the rigmarole. This has proved to be quite handy when coupled with the GV web interface as I can play them directly in the browser, do a text search on the voicemail transcriptions, texts or search for any of those things by specific contact (Advanced search operators at Google Voice help: http://www.google.com/support/voice/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=146756. The transcriptions are not perfect but you get the general idea. The ability to send and receive text messages at my GV number through the web interface is also really helpful and cuts down on the amount that I use out of my plan.
How I’m Using It and Issues
I have a Nokia E71 http://www.nokiausa.com/find-products/phones/nokia-e71 phone and a huge factor in picking this phone was its native SIP client and wifi abilities. I’m quite taken with the idea of cutting the cell company out of the loop as much as possible. Google Voice has the option of defining a Gizmo5 number so if you have a Gizmo5 http://www.gizmo5.com/ account and a soft phone configured for that account, calls to your Google Voice number will be forwarded to that device.
When I’m at connected to wifi calls to my Google Voice number go to my Gizmo5 account (no cell minutes) and when I’m out and about they’ll come to my phone through the cell network. The VoIP calls are usually very good quality. Google doesn’t work with incoming SIP connections so the call back feature in the browser or on the mobile site is handy.
Initiating outgoing calls and texts is an issue. If you want to call someone you have to call your number, get the GV voice system, dial 2 and then enter the number. Not going happen. One way around this; every text message received comes from a 406 area code and will be unique per user in your contact list. You can call or text this number and it will go to your contact and look as though it has come from your GV number. I have been adding this number to my contacts and using it to call/text them. For single use or first time numbers this app has helped initiate calls: http://www.gvdialer.com/ It’s rather slow to complete the whole process though and doesn’t help with text messages.
The Google Voice mobile website also helps get around some of the initiating text or call issues but there have been times that I can’t get a data connection and this isn’t an option. I could always text from my “real” phone number but then what’s the point of handing out my GV number? I would only have people confused as to which number to use. Total chaos.
This will initiate a callback with numbers I run into in the browser: http://thatsmith.com/2009/03/google-voice-add-on-for-firefox/
What I’d Like To See
This application, GV, http://evancharlton.com/projects/gv/ is probably the closest thing to what I’d like to see for a native phone application that’s out there right now. Most of the problems I’ve run into stem from not having a reliable data connection and an app could help cache or retry retrieving or sending texts and voicemails.
Possible app features?
- Integrate with existing device contact functionality – for calls, texts
- Outgoing calls initiate a callback over a data connection, if data is unavailable fallback to calling numbers using tones
- Visual voicemail similar to the iPhone – cache info if a data connection is unavailable
- Send and Receive text messages over a data connection and avoid the forwarding and text charges
- Retrieve the Google 406 number and add it to a contact
So, while Google Voice isn’t there yet it’s pretty darn close.