I’m a big fan of Google Voice. During the past year, I’ve written a number of posts about it, including tutorials for setting it up and getting the most out of its features. During that time, the service has been in a limited beta, by invitation only. Yesterday, Google Voice opened up to the public. Anyone can now use it. To celebrate, I’ve decided to make a list of my favorite ways to use the service. Where applicable, I’ve provided links to detailed, step-by-step tutorials for setting up the features I describe.
1. Free home phone service:
Google Voice is not a self-contained phone service- it’s just a free and permanent phone number that forwards wherever you want. There are two VoIP services I know of, SipGate and Gizmo5, that provide free incoming calls. If you initiate a call through Google Voice’s web interface, by telling it what number you want to call and which of your phones you want connected, Google Voice will place a call to your phone and connect you with the other number after you pick up. When you dial by this method SipGate and Gizmo5 treat it as an incoming call, which is free.
I have a device called an Analog Telephone Adapter or ATA that connects to my router and to my landline phones. The ATA is configured with my SipGate account. When a call is placed to my Google Voice number, it is forwarded to my SipGate number, through the ATA, to my desk phone. When I want to dial out, I use Google Voice’s web interface to initiate the call. My desk phone rings, and when I answer, I am connected to the number I called.
To read a step-by-step tutorial on how I set this up, click the following link:
You may also be interested in the following links:
Note: This setup does not provide 911 calling. If you choose to use this as your home phone, I strongly recommend you have some other method set up for emergency calls.
2. Voicemail for my cell phone:
I’ve set up my cell phone to forward missed calls to Google Voice. Now, instead of having to listen to voicemail, I can see voicemail transcriptions in my email or web browser. Most of the time the transcriptions are good enough that I can see who called and get the gist of their message. If the transcription is too garbled, I can listen to the message with one click. (You can activate Google Voicemail for your cell phone under Settings -> Phones -> Edit (for your cell phone) -> Advanced Options -> Activate Google Voicemail.
3. Forwarding missed cellular calls to my other phones:
I don’t get a strong cell phone signal at my house. I have to stand near a window or step outside in order to have a conversation. Fortunately, Google Voice gives me the option to forward missed cellular calls to my other phones before they go to voicemail. That way, if I’m at home, I can ignore my cell phone and wait for the cordless phone on my desk to ring. (You have to have Google Voicemail set up for your cell phone in order to use this feature. You can configure this option under Settings -> Phones -> Edit (for your cell phone) -> Advanced Options -> Forwarding Options)
4. A disposable number for eBay or Craigslist:
A few months ago, I wanted to sell some stuff on Craigslist, but didn’t want to give out my cell phone or primary Google Voice number. I set up a new Google Account with Gmail and Voice to communicate with prospective buyers. Google doesn’t allow you to forward multiple Voice numbers to the same cell phone, but you can forward multiple voice numbers to the same landline or SIP number. I set the Gmail account to forward to my main email, and the Voice account to forward to my ATA and home phone setup. That way, voicemail transcriptions would still be sent to my main email, and I could answer or return calls from my home phone without exposing my primary numbers.
5. Instant, no-cost, hassle-free local number when you move:
I recently moved to a condo in a gated complex. The gate has an intercom system that can be used to remotely unlock the gate for visitors. In order to set up my phone with the gate intercom system, I needed a phone number with a particular area code. Rather than pay money for a new landline and go through the hassle of changing phone numbers, I just set up a new Google Voice number with the right area code, and set it to forward to my ATA and home phone setup.
I also configured this number to not ring my phone between midnight and 8am. That way, I won’t have my sleep disturbed when someone pushes the wrong button late at night.
If I were to move to another state, I wouldn’t bother changing my cell phone number or setting up a landline through the local phone company. I’d just set up a local Google Voice number, set it to forward to my cell phone, and give that out to my contacts in the new area. That way, I wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of updating phone numbers with old friends and family, but I could still have a local phone number in the new area.
6. Low-cost international calling on my iPhone or Windows Mobile phone
One of my sisters lives in Europe. If I were to call her on my cell phone, I would pay upwards of a dollar per minute. With Google Voice, I pay 2 cents per minute. That’s a great rate even for a landline.
But wait! There’s more! What if I told you I could use my cell phone to call my sister in Europe, and pay only 2 cents per minute? Turns out I can. Using the Google Voice mobile site from an iPhone’s browser, or a free app for Windows mobile, I can route my outgoing calls through Google Voice. My Voice number shows up on the other party’s caller ID, and Google’s calling rates apply, in this case, 2 cents per minute.
Note: calling European cell phones is much more expensive, often upwards of 30 cents per minute, due to Europe’s cellular pricing structure. Also, using your cell phone to call through Google Voice will use your cell phone minutes, in addition to whatever per-minute rates apply.
To read more about setting up Google Voice calling on your iPhone or Windows Mobile device, choose from the following links.