Introducing Google Voice (formerly GrandCentral)

2009-03-18 11:17pm by Ann

I’ve been a heavy user of GrandCentral‘s phone/voicemail service since some time before they were acquired by Google. I found it especially handy for allowing me to have a San Francisco area code (415) phone number that forwards calls right to my original Hawaii cell phone number, which is pretty much the only phone I ever use. I’ve also used it to screen out those really annoying car warranty expiration spam calls.

Earlier today I got an email from Google saying that my GrandCentral account was finally ready to be upgraded to the new Google Voice service. Naturally, I had to upgrade and check out the new features! After only a few minutes I had already decided that the new service was much better than the old.

The new interface is very similar to Gmail’s and much easier to navigate than the GrandCentral interface. Google Voice now allows incoming calls to go straight through to you rather than being interrupted by the voice menu that used to force you to manually choose how to route the call every single time (this was my biggest complaint with the old service). They’ve also expanded their SMS features significantly. You can receive SMS messages at your Google Voice number and view/reply to them from the Google Voice web interface. Additionally, you can have SMS messages forwarded to your mobile phone and reply from there as usual. I was able to receive SMS messages sent from mobile phones just fine, but unfortunately test messages sent to my Google Voice number from AIM were never received.

Google has also added a voice to text service for voicemail messages. Although it’s a sweet feature for sure, I suspect that it will be pretty useless for actual use.

The test voicemail message I left: “Hello, how are you? What are you doing? Goodbye now.”

Google Voice’s text translation: “hey bill how are you went are you doing good site now”

But hey, what can you expect for free? It looks like the only feature they did away with was the ability to set custom ringtones, which I never used anyway. The one thing I thought they should have added is the ability to receive voicemail in your email as an attached audio file rather than just receiving a link to play it back online, along with their crappy text translation. Still, aside from charging for credits to place international phone calls (another new feature) the service is completely free, so I won’t be complaining…

Unfortunately for those of you who don’t already have GrandCentral accounts, there are no open signups yet for Google Voice. They are, however, currently taking requests for invites on their site.

9 Responses to “Introducing Google Voice (formerly GrandCentral)”

  1. Wardell says:

    I just upgraded to, the new service is very cool I love the SMS but now I only wish there was a way to initiate a GoogleVoice SMS from my mobile phone, as you can with voice calls.

    • Ann says:

      I bet they’ll be rolling out a mobile app soon at the very least for Android. In the meantime I guess the only way to initiate an SMS right now is through the site, which actually has a mobile version that is fairly usable. I’m also hoping for some kind of API, but if not then what I’d really love to have is the ability to forward SMS messages to IM! It would be REALLY sweet and even make a lot of sense to give users the option of forwarding Google Voice SMS messages to Google Talk… interoperability between the two can only be a good thing for all.

  2. Brian says:

    I second that. I have a cellphone that is currently blocked from receiving or sending SMS messages. For those of us, or for those who don’t want to fork out the 15 cent sms charge, a forward to IM would be great. If nothing else, at least forward to email with replies being sent back out as SMS messages for a simulated SMS experience (well those of us with data plans anyway (ie. blackberry users)).

  3. Brian says:

    don’t know if links work here or not, but there is a request up on the google site for this, so people should add their names:

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/voice/thread?tid=33737a25346e10fd&hl=en

    If links don’t work, them, umm, maybe a search will do on the google voice support site. :)

  4. should be at the wordpres party now but went to bed at 4:40am yesterday and got up at 7:00am (complete with hangover) and just decided no way! two cool phone services: (1st for iphone but i think you can even use it on your desktop) “receptionist” by att assigns you a free unique 800 number and allows you to route it through several of your other phone numbers, in the order you prefer, and ulitmately you decide which voice mail (or its own) it bounces to. if you have an iphone it’s a no-brainer – the first 100 minutes/month are free out of your iphone plan. after that – there is a charge so you need to be careful. the second is another att (no do not work for them!) that lets you aggragate all your email from multiple sources along with fax and voicemail to access from the web. the vmails come in .wav files and show you the number, etc…so you can skip if you want. they also send you an email when you get a new voice mail. damn i do tend to ramble on – ‘pologies again! hope you had fun at the party! jjw

    • Ann says:

      Hi Justin, thanks for checking out my blog and for your suggestions! (I also remember you from WordCamp, and incidentally, I also missed the after-party.) I post here pretty infrequently so sorry if it’s taken me so long to reply.

      Anyway I checked out the receptionist service you mentioned:
      http://mobile.ringcentral.com/receptionist/

      It looks interesting but I don’t own an iPhone. :p Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who works in tech who DOESN’T own an iPhone… and I don’t care, either! I am attached to my laptop most of the time and when I’m not, I prefer a good book! I think there are certainly a lot of great, useful services out there, but I personally don’t need all that much beyond a local number forwarder. I don’t think I’ve needed to receive a fax ever! However I will occasionally make use of http://faxzero.com to send one out.

  5. mike says:

    So does Google charge you for incoming calls routed to your Hawaii phone?

    • Ann says:

      Luckily incoming calls forwarded to my Hawaii number aren’t charged. Didn’t even realize until last month that Hawaii was considered long distance.

      • mike says:

        Thanks very much for the reply–and for one that actually answered my question. You don’t know how long I’ve been trying to find someone who could answer this definitively for me. That GV doesn’t charge for incoming calls forwarded to Hawaii numbers is fantastic news. I’m hoping to use my toll-free Toktumi number as a front-end to my GV once I get my invite (hopefully before the NEXT millennium). Hoping too, should that work, there’s not too much of a delay (or distortion) with the double forwarding.

        Also, you have a very cool site! Nice work.

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