Google Voice. You’ve heard about it; you might even have a friend that uses it (or has used its predecessor application, Grand Central). But here’s the deal: You want to use it. You need to use it. If you have any interest at all in turning your normal mobile communications into a supercharged environment boosted by the best of what the Web and a mobile network could possibly offer… it’s time to go Google Voice.
But don’t let us be the only voice of reason that’s persuading you to adopt this fabulous, fairly free service from the big G. In the following series of pages, we’re dishing out 10 different ways that you can use Google Voice to make your mobile life even more awesome than it currently is. And just to make sure we’ve covered all the bases, we’re splitting the tips into, “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and, “Advanced” sections—let no stone, or cellular-related feature, go unturned!
Get Google Voice
You might think we’re kidding on this one, but we’re completely serious – in order to best enjoy Google Voice, you have to first sign yourself up for the service. That sounds like a no-brainer on paper, right? Just fire up your Google Account, surf on over to the appropriate site, and sign right up.
Wrong. For Google allows you to choose between two key options when establishing your brand-new service—pick a brand-new number that’s been blessed (created) by Google itself, or use your existing phone number with Google Voice.
On this, you’ll want to resist the urge to be lazy. Go for Google’s number—you’ll get a host of additional features for no loss in conventional service whatsoever.
Connect Thy Number
It’s a fallacy to think that signing up for Google Voice is akin to signing up for a new mobile carrier or something equally stress-inducing as that. Consider Google Voice the potatoes that supplement your preexisting, meaty meal of a mobile plan. That which Google provides is more of an intermediary—with some important caveats—than a direct replacement of service, and nowhere is that more apparent than the forwarding functionality built into the core of Google Voice’s operations.
In short, the second you get your Google number, hit up its “Settings” link in the upper-right corner of the main screen and start adding every phone number of yours under the sun as a forwarding number. What does that mean? Calls to your Google number will bounce straight to your cell phone, for example, which makes the “new” Google Number you created in the first tip indistinguishable in its purpose from your current cell phone number. The two are now one.
Connect Thy Phone
Alright. You already have a service provider whose likely giving you a specific number of minutes and text messages per month (we’re assuming you’re connecting Google Voice with your mobile device). Why would you want or need to connect Google Voice to your phone—you still have to use your minutes to dial out to anyone, right?
There are plenty of different reasons why it’s worth your while to bookmark the mobile Google Voice site or download a related App straight to your mobile device. For starters, confidentiality: You can dial out and hide your actual phone number from everyone. You can also use Google Voice to send (not receive) free text messages from your phone. If your carrier offers this feature, you can add your Google Voice number to your list of “doesn’t take off my minutes when I talk to these numbers” people for unlimited, “free” mobile use. And did we mention Google’s free, transcripted voicemail?
Establish Calling Groups
It’s great and all that you’ve been able to make use of Google’s core functionality, and I’m going to let you finish but… the service’s calling groups are some of the most helpful resources of all time. So much so, that we even use a Kanye West joke to illustrate that fact.
What’s a calling group? Under Google Voice’s Settings window, you can click forward to a “Manage Groups” page that allows you to add an unlimited number of people either to one of the five default groups listed in Google Voice or a custom one of your own design. In doing so, you can isolate individuals in a bunch of fun and useful ways.
For example, you can specify that anyone in your “Coworkers” group—who calls your Google number—is automatically routed to your work phone, delivered a specific greeting if they bounce to voicemail, and allowed to dial through to you unscreened. Mix and match as you see fit for the ultimate in privacy and satisfaction!
Lockdown your phone
Let’s face it. Google Voice can be downright handy in its ability to dial up a smorgasboard of different phones you control (in various permutations, as noted above) whenever anyone calls your main “switchboard” of a Google Voice number. But do you really want you apartment or office breaking out in a cacophony of sound every time some telemarketer rings you up? (More on that later.)
Google’s solution to this auditory nightmare is buried in the Phones > Edit > Show advanced settings window off of Google Voice’s main settings page. Nestled within this link is a series of options that you can customize for each phone you’ve added to Google Voice—including setting up time schedules for when you might want Google Voice to forward a call to a specific phone or not.
Integrate Into Your Digital Life
For the truly lazy (or industrious) Web browser, there are a seemingly unending amount of ways to integrate Google Voice into your daily habits without having to fire up the service’s Web page but one second. Firefox users will want to check out either Google Shortcuts—for one-button access to all of Google’s services through Firefox (we lied about that one-second-on-page deal)–or the aptly named Google Voice Add-On for Firefox if you want to place calls directly via a browser button.
Google Chrome users have it a bit easier (go figure), as Google itself has written a Chrome extension to build quick-call access directly into the browser itself—including the transforming of all phone numbers on Web pages into Voice-accessible links. And if neither of these add-ons pique your interest—Firefox or Chrome—you can always just opt for a lesser approach and integrate Google Voice into your Gmail window.
Mash ‘em Up
There’s not an ideal way to combine all of your various chat communications tools under one roof, but the app Voxox is one of the closest we’ve found so far. The app is fairly simple, in that it allows you to manage Google Voice interactions, IM chats, and social network connections in one place. When you install the program and sign up for the corresponding free service, you get a single phone number—guess what you’ll be linking to Google Voice?
When you do so, however, know that only incoming calls and texts are free – attempting to use the service to make outgoing calls or, worse, send outgoing texts will incur a separate fee. But remember, we didn’t say there was an ideal way to mash together your various communication platforms…
Get Rid of Your Landline, Forever!
Free is the name of the game on this one, in that you don’t want to have to pay a single penny for completely free access to the telecommunications network from the privacy of your home or apartment. Alright. We can’t do free, but how about… cheap?
Gizmodo’s Casey Chan has written up an excellent how-to guide for using a device called the Telo to make and receive free VoIP calls. But instead of doing this across your PC a la Skype (or Google Voice itself, a tip we’ll get to in a bit), Ooma’s $250 Telo bridges together a real, physical handset with the free power that is Google Voice. In essence, you’ve pulled a end-around on Ma Bell!
Turn Google Voice into Skype
Google Voice is awesome in that it connects your physical phones to a virtualized phone number, but what if you want to use an old-fashioned headset and mic to dial up your friends a la Skype? No can do, friend—at least, not without some third-party tools that combine your computer-based hardware with your web-based phone service.
Sipgate’s the combined software/service you’ll want to turn to for this one. The free version of the program/service gives you one free phone number (which you’ll tie into Google Voice) and an app that lets you access service via a typical headset/mic combination. Here’s the trick, though: Since Sipgate only gives you a certain block of time for free calls, you’ll want to dial friends using Google Voice (which, in turn, calls your Sipgate number) and answer common phonecalls via Sipgate’s app!
Set Up Ringing by Location, not Time
This one’s getting pretty detailed—suppose you don’t want to necessarily block off calls to your phone based on what time of the day it is, but on where you are in the world (eh, Carmen Sandiego?) This isn’t a trick you can do with all mobile devices, as we’ve only managed to located instructions for Android-based phones thus far.
That said, blogger Chad Smith has written up a pretty extensive guide for setting up Google Voice such that calls are forwarded based on your location. To do so, you’ll not only an Android phone (and a $10 app), but a free Web server that you can use as a sort-of warehouse for your location settings. It’s a complex trick but one that’s utterly invaluable for the travelin’ dude or lady.
Maximum PC’s David Murphy lives for the day when all services, in any format, are free—bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!