Until now, Google Voice was only available “by invitation.” However, it has now been released for use by the general public: http://www.google.com/voice. (Click here to go straight to the features page.) In this article I will go over some of the major features of Google Voice, as well as a quick description of how it helps save us money each month.
What is it?
This service, at it’s root, is a VoIP (Voice over IP) system — which is to say, phone calls are made through the Internet, but without having to install any special equipment (such as with Vonage). For FREE (within the US and Canada). You don’t even need a PC to receive or make calls (as you do with Skype). You can continue using your regular phone line. I’m not going to go into the technical details of how VoIP works, or how Google uses VoIP to connect to a regular telco phone line; I’ll save that for another article.
(Now, to be fair, we use Vonage as well and it offers some of the same services, such as email transcription (translation to text sent to you in an email), but you have to pay extra. And it does require a special piece of hardware to connect your house phone line to the Internet. And.. you can use Google Voice without having a phone line, using your PC, described in this excellent LifeHacker article.)
How does it work?
When you sign up, you choose a new phone number — it can be anywhere in the country, and isn’t tied to a landline (like a normal line from the phone company is). You then associate it with one or more telephones and when anyone dials your Google Voice number, all the associated phones ring. So for example, you can just give your friends and family a single Google Voice phone number that when called, simultaneously rings your office phone, home phone, cell phone, car phone, yacht phone… If you move, your Google voice number comes with you.
If nobody picks up the phone, the caller gets the opportunity to leave a voicemail. Which Google Voice then transcribes and emails to you, both as its best guess translated to text and as the audio file. The transcription is generally hilarious and only sometimes completely unusable, but can give you a general idea at least of who called and from what phone #.
OR… you can screen calls… or accept them but also record the conversation. You can’t do that with any telephone company offering that I’ve ever heard of.
Voicemail greetings can be customized per caller. One greeting for your parents, another for your boss, and some generic message for everyone else.
And if you’ve got an Android, Blackberry or iPhone, you can install the Google Voice application which then allows you to make free phone calls. Free because they use your Internet data plan (which is usually a fixed amount per month for unlimited service), instead of your 3G service which is charged per minute.
Saving Money Every Month
Aside from all those nifty features, we really got excited about Google Voice as a path towards saving money.
Here’s what we did to cut our monthly telecommunications bill in half — we eliminated our Verizon land line, and kept only our Cablevision Internet connection. Cutting out Verizon saved us $50 per month. Then we added Vonage back into the mix, which utilizes our Internet connection and costs $25 per month (the cheapest plan).
Savings = $300 per year. Can you think of anything you can do with $300 in your pocket?
That alone gives us exactly what we had with the Verizon plan, for half the cost. We then layered Google Voice on top of that for the extra features. And if we ever move to a new house and get a new phone number, we just update Google Voice with the new house number — anyone using our Google Voice number will continue to be able to reach us no matter where we go. Gone are the days of having to tell everyone your new phone number; they can continue to reach you wherever you are through your Google Voice number.
On top of that, we save a few more hundred per year since we have Android phones (remember, my Android Kool-Aid story?) and use the Google Voice application there as well. That means… anytime we have access to the 3G wireless network, or a WiFi connection (almost all the time), we are making free phone calls whether they are local or long distance.
My family has been using this service for several months now, are pleased with what it’s done for us and highly recommend it. Go sign up. At the worst you can always get rid of it, having lost nothing except some of your time.
It’s free, and you can’t beat that with a stick. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.