My review of Google Voice

I hate to have to fly a banner like the one on the left, but after a careful analysis and period of experimentation with Google Voice – I’m not very happy.  Google Voice promises (amongst other things) free domestic calls, free SMS, integration with your Android phone and much more.  Being a big fan of Google’s product offering (and a bigger fan of their free price tag) I was eager to unleash the fury and excitement of Google Voice on my new HTC Droid Incredible.  Let’s do this!

Installing GV is very easy, just like every other application I’ve installed on the droid.  It just works.  Nice.  Setup is also very easy especially if you have a GV account already – which I did.  So now I am ready to make “free calls”.  I set my phone to dial using GV and off I went.  People got calls from my GV number, I told people “use this number now”.  I enjoyed the ability to send, receive and archive my txt messages online.  I enjoyed being able to route and re-route my phone to different handsets/phones.  Life was good.  I was so cool!  I was taking it to Verizon Wireless!  Soon – I would be well on my way to reducing my minutes and cutting back on my txt plan.  WRONG!

Let me start breaking down the wrongness of this situation.  First – I will take the ‘blame’ for not reading and understanding correctly on this one.  SMS – or Short Message Service is for SIMPLE messages, most of us would call text or txt messages.  It does not include or incorporate photos, videos, fancy font emails and is limited to 160 characters.  (Google will split long messages for you, which is very cool!)  To send photos or other multimedia content, you need MMS or Multimedia Messaging Service. Ultimately – that is ok – because I still have messaging on my phone.  It’s not a big deal – but my contacts could/should/would need to know “Send pictures to THIS number, send TXT to THAT number”.  My dad, my wife and a few others could keep up with that – but well – why should my friends have to stomach that burden?  I take the blame for not understanding what the service offered, I do not take the blame for them not incorporating MMS.  It would be HUGE and make the service much more valuable – but this is Google VOICE not Google MESSAGE so one does have to wonder why they are so closely incorporated and tied.  Probably because phones are no longer about just voice.  We digress…

The second shortcoming – Google is going to take the blame until somebody else helps me understand it is Verizon’s, my droids, or anybody else we can blame.  “Free domestic calling” uses your minutes – if you are connected to a mobile network.  I was under the impression that when connected to a 3G network your calls would be data – not minutes.  Verizon has unlimited data – and as such – I could circumvent my minutes from being used and I would again be happy joyous and FREE! – WRONG! Every Google Voice dialed call IMMEDIATELY calls a “secret” access number.  This number then automagically forwards on your call the number you called, using your GV digits.  All this is GREAT – except – that “secret” access number changes all the time.  With our family plan, we could add all the GV access numbers we find, but we only get 10 Friends and Family numbers – and it would eat them up quick.  Verizon to Verizon calls now use minutes.  For this reason, I think the system is a #fail.  Now – having said that – if I were making international calls, I would only be using minutes and paying low international rates through GV, which would be cool – but I don’t call internationally very often (I don’t remember my last international call, to be honest).

I probably shouldn’t mention this – as it was only one outage – but about a week into my ‘trial’ they had one of their first outages.  It’s a long story, but Google doesn’t have a huge support staff for their free/beta applications.  I managed to find a guy that works for Google on twitter.  He made a few calls and got people working on it.  The unfortunate thing was, nobody could send/receive calls.  Outages happen, but that tarnished my impression.

The final thing I need/want to complain about – for years, if you didn’t have enough cell signal to call, you could txt.  No bars… you can txt and tell people “Bad cell!”, but not with Google Voice.  If you aren’t connected well, you aren’t txting.  If you were trying to hide your personal cell number, this could be a problem.

Pros:

  • I have a permanent number, I can forward to any phone in the US and you can reach me.
  • I can txt from the web, meaning I do0n’t have to type so much on my phone.
  • It will integrate with my droid.

Cons:

  • Integration uses minutes.
  • SMS… not MMS (which really was me getting excited about something that wasn’t there, but well – It would be cool if it had it!)
  • Outage – but Verizon has had them before too.

Current Status:

I continue to use GV on a regular basis.  I consider myself an experience phone/computer user and can tell you that I do thing you probably never wanted to do with your phone and/or computer.  Would I recommend you use GV?  Maybe.  If you are prepared to explain why you just sent a txt from a number that’s “not yours”… sure.  If you need some subsegment of the functionality – go for it.  If you have no idea in the world why I just wrote almost 1000 words about a telephone that has google and a web page involved – I’m proud of you for reading this far!  Do not bother with Google Voice!

It’s a system with a lot of potential, it just isn’t ready for prime time.  I wonder if that is why they say it is still in beta?

5 thoughts on “My review of Google Voice

  1. To be fair, Google Voice isn’t sold as “free calls” either. And you have the tech mostly right as to how it does work.

    Google Voice is not a VoiP provider. It does not allow for or use any form of Voice over IP. It is a central switching service which allows the use of one phone number to route to any number of physical phones.

    When you make a call through an android device using google voice, the following occurs.

    1) A data channel is used to contact the GV servers indicating you want to make a call. The nearest available server then calls your handset, which picks up the call before it can ring. (This is the “access number” you see at the top of your screen) Then, the google voice server dials your intended contact, and bridges the two calls through itself.

    End result, you get to make a call from one phone, while presenting your Google Voice number as the originating phone number.

    Google Voice isn’t about free calls or cheaper minutes, it’s about having a single phone number that you can use with multiple, completely separate phone systems. It’s also about having a single place for your voice mail and txt messages to exist and be searchable and archive-able from now until you never want to see them again.

    [Addendum – Yes, you can use GV to make cheaper international calls, because it is having a local number call you, and therefor only counts as a local call to whatever device you are using]

  2. Josh, while I do respect you – I have to contradict you on a couple of things here.

    It says – right on the GV website: “Free calls & text messages to the U.S. & Canada. Super low rates everywhere else.”

    It has achieved that, but the small print someplace needs to (or does read) standard phone usage rates will will still apply.

    You can make calls using “Google Talk”, which are VoIP, but not from your cell phone.

    It’s a shame they can’t have the switch call you from a consistent number. That would fix a lot of my sadness.

    You added clarity on the tech side, so thank you!

  3. I concur, that is misleading. While Google Voice itself does not charge for calls, it does fail to mention that as a service, you will still incur local charges through whatever phone system you use with Google Voice.

    Google Talk can use VoIP, but by definition Google Talk is not Google Voice

    It would be nice if the call inbound was from a constant number, but the nature of flexible resources dictates that it’s cheaper to have a dialing pool than fixed assignments.

  4. I agree with Josh- I think you had the wrong idea about Google Voice from the onset. It’s not about making free calls, it’s about consolidating ALL of your phone numbers into one and keeping all the related data on-line (such as voice mails, SMS, etc). I think one of the coolest things about Google Voice is the ability to transcribe voice mails. Blocking and screening callers is also a nice plus.

    I’ve been using the service for 5 years now. My account originated with Grand Central and I was grandfathered into Google Voice when Google bought Grand Central in 2009. So I’ve been on Google Voice for a long time- since the beginning.

    In my photography business, I use my GV number as my contact number. I prefer not to give my “real” number out to anyone and GV works well in lieu of purchasing a business line from the telco.

  5. From the google website:

    One Number
    Use a single number that rings you anywhere.

    Online voicemail
    Get transcribed messages delivered to your inbox.

    Cheap calls
    Free calls & text messages to the U.S. & Canada.
    Super low rates everywhere else.

    I touched on one of those. I pointed out the flaws with another – and I left out the third. Not a very good review, eh?

    I may post a re-review if I am so inclined at a later date. That being said – I have to say – the any number feature is cool, but for me it has not been a huge benefit. It is cool. It works VERY well on incoming calls. VERY WELL!

    The voicemail, online – transcribed or not is FABULOUS! It is one reason I use the service and I just missed it. Being able to hear your voicemail from any web browser is INCREDIBLE! A transcribed txt – when it works – is cool too! When my wife sends me a voicemail – you never KNOW what it will say in transcription!

    You and Josh downplay the “free calls” thing, but I have to say – if Google lists it as one of THREE selling points of the product, I am at least 1/3 right!

    I appreciate your comments and input – good stuff.

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