Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Birthday Present from Google: Google Voice!

I checked today...and I was accepted to upgrade from GrandCentral to Google Voice! I'm really excited about this service.

For those of you who don't know GrandCentral Google Voice (GV) is a service from Google which provides the user with a phone number. Other people can call that number, and it will forward to any number of your own phones, allowing you to provide one number which you can access from anywhere. On your side, GV will record your voicemails (you can view them online later or access them on your phone), and best of all you can place calls through GV. This means that you can call anywhere in the US for the cost of a local call.

By the way: it's still in private beta, so no, I can't give you an invite. Not yet, at any rate.

I'm going to review some of the features now.

Layout: 10
Google voice's layout is very similar to that of Google Reader or Gmail. It makes use of AJAX, like in Gmail -- ever notice how clicking on "New Message" doesn't refresh the page? Really, it's extremely easy to navigate, which is a big improvement over Grandcentral's slow and clunky layout.

Placing a Call (from Online): 10
Google made this stupid-proof. No matter what you're viewing on the GV page, there's a big button in the upper-left labeled Call. Click it, and you're given a spot to enter your number to call, and a number you're calling from. When you enter in the to-call number, Google provides number suggestions based on your Contacts (think Gmail's "from" address bar in a new message). you can call from either one of your pre-chosen phones or from a temporary phone (think hotel rooms). Really, it's amazing.

Placing a Call (from a Phone): 9
I recommend you add your GV# to your speed dial list on your main GV phone(s). When you call your GV#, press 2 to enter a phone number to dial. The connection is fast and easy. It would be nice to see the ability to simply speak a person's name and have Google use their speech-to-text technology (see below) to place your call automatically, and their interface is a little slow, so you sometimes have to sit through an explanation of what to do before you can actually type the number to dial.

Call Quality: 9
No matter who called whom from where using GV, the quality was fantastic, and the phone delay was about a second, which is great for a double-hop system. However, GV itself seemed to have a hard time understanding me: when I entered my name and personal greeting, the result was very poor quality. This might be because I was on a cellphone -- I'll check and get back to you.

Other Features: 10
The people over at Google are really brilliant. I have a rather old phone, so GV's extra features give my phone capabilities not dreamed up until years after my phone was shipping from China. With GV, my phone can now do up to 4-way conference calling, I can record whole phone calls (OK, that's one's kind of creepy), and I can listen in when people leave a voicemail and decide to interrupt them. I can even block unwanted callers, and they'll hear a "Number not in service" message the next time they call. Voicemails are stored online and transcribed automatically. Really, it's like Gmail audio edition.

Pricing: 10
Good news: GV is currently free, AND you get a free dollar for international calls, which gives me 50 minutes to talk to Israel. :D
Bad news: I'll be amazed if Google doesn't eventually charge for this.

Overall: 10
This is one of the greatest things Google has ever introduced. If they fix the on-phone interface, I'll run out of bad things to say. Google, I applaud this product, and look forward to using it. If you keep it free, I'll also be your best friend forever.


One thing I'll be very interested to see will be how Google merges its work with GV with Google's mobile OS, Android. Here's my dream: Google teams up GV with the Android carriers, making the price of every call to a US number equivalent to that of a local call. Meanwhile, Google and Skype team up, allowing Skype users to use their GV#s, and people everywhere can now make much cheaper calls.

Maybe someday.

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