Menu Close

Google Voice – A Primer

Telephone Google Voice, Google’s free service to help you make and receive calls, is currently open only to former GrandCentral subscribers.  Soon, though, Google will make Voice more widely available.  Between free U.S. calls, call filtering, multiple telephone ringing, and call transcription, Voice offers many enticing features.  Google Voice is so different from traditional telephone service, though, that it can be difficult to comprehend exactly how the service works.  Today we take a look at the basics of Google Voice.

Image from Wikipedia.


The Basics

Google Voice doesn’t replace your telephone or telephone service.  Instead, it supplements it by performing several functions in conjunction with your new Google Voice telephone number.  In fact, you can’t make or receive calls if you don’t have some other form of telephone service.  Think of Google Voice as a digital telephone operator- it will forward incoming calls to telephones that you designate, place calls for you by connecting your current telephone and the person you are calling, and transcribe voicemail messages.


Making calls

googlevoiceout Outgoing calls, although free or low cost, are actually more complicated with Google Voice than with a traditional telephone service.  You no longer directly dial a number from your telephone to make a call.  Instead, there are two different ways to make a call.

The first method is to use the Google Voice website.  On the site, you enter the telephone number of the person who you wish to call, and designate which of your telephones you would like to use to connect the call.  The Google Voice servers will then call you, ringing your phone.  Once you answer, Google Voice will then dial the other party and connect you.

The second way to make a call is to call your own Google Voice number from one of your designated telephones.  Google Voice detects that the phone belongs to you, asks you to enter your PIN, and then presents you with a few menu options.  One of those options is to make a telephone call.  If you select that option, you can then enter the other party’s number on the keypad.  (There may be additional ways to call if you have a mobile Google Voice app on your cell phone, but since I have an unlocked iPhone, I wouldn’t know about that).

Personally, I still use my normal telephone service to make most calls, due to the extra steps involved in using Voice.  I do use Voice for calls that would otherwise cost me money, and for calls where I want my Voice number to show up on the recipient’s caller ID.


Receiving calls

Your Google Voice number isn’t natively tied to a specific telephone.  Instead, you tell Google Voice which of your phones should ring when a call is made to your Google Voice number.  Incoming calls to your Google Voice number will then ring on those phones.  You can also set up "Groups," with different call filters set up for each group.  For example, you could have the calls from certain friends only ring your cell phone, while the calls of your family members would ring your cell phone and your work phone at the same time.  You can also choose to forward calls from designated groups to your voicemail.

Incoming Caller ID can be preserved in Google Voice.  You can set Google Voice so that incoming calls display your Google Voice number, or so that incoming calls display the Caller ID of the caller.

Google also gives you the option of "Call Presentation."  With Call Presentation turned on, the first thing you hear when you answer your phone will be a verbal announcement that identifies the caller.  With Call Presentation turned off, you can answer your phone as your normally would.


Voicemail and Call Transcription

Google Voice Transcript If you enable voicemail in your account, your calls will go into your Google Voice voicemail so long as one of your other phones doesn’t pick up the call first.  Calls go into Google Voice voicemail after 25 seconds.  This isn’t configurable, so you need to make sure that you set your other phones so that their voicemail doesn’t pick up prior to that time.

You also have the option to enable call transcription.  Transcription isn’t perfect, but I’ve found it to be good enough to get the gist of most messages.  As you can see in the above image, words are transcribed in two colors.  Words in black are words that Voice is fairly certain are correct, while the gray words are the less certain ones.


Calls to and from your computer

gizmo5 Google Voice does not work like Skype Out.  You can’t actually make calls from your computer alone, since, as explained above, a phone is part of every call.  But there is a workaround, using the service Gizmo5.  Gizmo5 is a Skype-like service, that allows you to make and receive telephone calls from your computer.

Outgoing calls on Gizmo5 are not free, but incoming calls are free.  Since Google Voice makes outgoing calls by calling you first, all you need to do is designate your Gizmo5 number as one of your phones.  In the step where you select your "Phone to Ring" to make a call with Google Voice, simply select your Gizmo5 number.  Google Voice will then call you on your Gizmo5 number, which is a free incoming call.  Answer the call from your computer (a headset and microphone would help), and then Google Voice will call the other party.


Are any of you using Google Voice?  If so, have you figured out any tricks?  If not, do you plan to get an account when Google makes accounts available?