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Introducing Google Voice (formerly GrandCentral)

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.