Google Voice on my iPhone

I like playing with technology and I received an invite to Google Voice. I use an iPhone 3G so the integration is limited to a HTML5 web page running in Safari. The integration is not bad at all and the web page on my iPhone is very functional.

Initial setup

Once you get the invite, you sign-in and get rolling pretty quickly.

Naturally you need to have a @gmail.com account to make this work. The authentication and management of your Google Voice service is all maintained via that account. You can still send transcribed voicemail to another email address but the online webpage uses your @gmail.com setup.

Selecting your phone number is fun. You tell the system what area code you want, you put in some text/numbers for what you want and Google tries to find a combination that matches what you were looking for. For example, putting in ‘TOYS’ for the 347 area code may present you with ‘347-XXX-TOYS’ or maybe ‘347-XTOYSXX’. You get the idea. I picked a number that repeats and was surprised that I got one that I liked.

Adding phones was a snap. You put in the number, tell Google what kind of phone it is, mobile or land line, and the system calls that number. You have to put in a 2 digit code that the web page gives you to validate that line. I did that for my mobile number and my home office line.

Mobile phone voicemail

My iPhone 3G comes with Visual Voicemail which for me was very cool for the first day. After that the appeal just got old. So using the instructions on the Google Voice web page I now set my iPhone to send voice mail to Google’s server.  The voicemail gets preserved for audio playback and I get an email as well as an SMS text message telling me I have voicemail. The transcription is pretty good and the text gets grayed out a little when Google thinks it might have misunderstood.

Now that is a useful feature. I already had that with my Vonage line but now I can use my Google Voice number to ring both my mobile and home office line and get a transcription of the voicemail sent to my inbox.  The transcription can optionally go to any email address and is not bound by the @gmail.com address. You can still read and hear it on the Google Voice page, but I like getting the transcription in my regular inbox.

I just log into Google Voice’s web interface and read the message. When the text is unclear I just play the message in the browser. Using Firefox I get an Adobe Flash player in the web page that lets me hear the voice mail . It’s very well done and pretty seamless.

I could also do the same using my iPhone on the HTML5 web page. The audio comes down via the QuickTime movie player.

If I want to go back to my iPhone’s Visual Voicemail I can follow Google’s instructions and my iPhone is back to normal.

Dialing using Google Voice on the iPhone

Google Voice is not a VoIP provider, so to use it you need to either have it call you, or you call them. Using the web page, I put in the phone number and I get a pop-up asking me to call Google Voice. When I’m connected to Google Voice, it then connects me to the number I dialed. When the call is over, I am returned to the web page.

I’m not really aware of how the Google Voice app on the iPhone was supposed to work but the integration here is as simple as it gets. The phone quality is not bad, though when I call my wife’s work line she hears her own voice echoing back to her.

Call screening and call recording

This is another useful feature: making people announce themselves before Google Voice calls you. When someone calls my number and their number is not in my contact list, they get prompted to leave their name before I get called. Then I get the call with “This person wants to call you, do you want to accept the call?” if you say no then they go to voicemail.

You can also record your calls. I have not fooled around with that, but I can see where I would be on a conference all and wanted a recording to review. I’m not sure that recording calls will get you a transcript but I don’t see why not.

SMS too

I’m not a big SMS user but SMS messages can go to your email box and when you reply to them, the sender gets that back via SMS.

If you could use Google Voice SMS exclusively to and from email, and not use your real mobile phone SMS capability, then that would go a long way with some people. We all know people who only pay for so many text messages and then get charged a lot for overage. Using SMS <-> email would get them over that cost burden.

Groups! Not all people are treated equally!

Since you have a contact list, you also have contact groups. From the web page

You can customize how different groups are treated. Have a special greeting for your “Family” or have your “Co-workers” ring separate phones. It’s all up to you.

By setting up these groups, I can handle which phone they go to and how they are screened (if at all). That’s a nice bit of flexibility and if I really go nuts with Google Voice I’ll probably turn that on.

Conclusion

I can see having one phone number to give out for multiple purposes would be appealing and the extras that you get make Google Voice a real winner. I’ve only had mine for a few days and I’ve already used the voicemail a few times. One number for life and just setup new phones on it.

Using any Google service brings up the idea of losing your privacy. Using Google Voice does not bother me because I do not expect anything via my mobile phone to be truly private. That might be cynical of me but I don’t think using Google Voice changes anything really.

If you are looking for voicemail transcription, one number to give out for life, then Google Voice is a great idea. Once it’s public it will take off like crazy.