I just got my Google Voice account after being on the waiting list for a couple of months, and so far it is quite a promising service.
What does it offer? Well first of all it is free. You can select your phone number from a number of available choices, and can even prime it with an area code or requested sequence of digits. My new number is 510-200-8006.
For incoming calls, if anyone calls this number (from the US only right now) then one or more of my existing phones will ring. That’s right, it can ring both my house, and business, and my cell also if it want; alternatively calls can go straight to voicemail.
The voicemail is interesting because 1) Google transcribes it into text and 2) optionally forwards it to email as well as to SMS. I used to pay $12 a month to AT&T for the forwarding without any transcription. Listen to a sample message here
And this is how it looks in the browser/inbox:
In the inbox, when the message is played each word is underlined in turn, just like in karaoke! You can see the transcription missed the word “blog” and the website name. Transcription only works in English right now.
The big advantage here for photographers is that you don’t have to call in to get messages, even when overseas. Checking messages is as easy as checking your email.
If you do choose to answer an incoming call, there are other features. Google Voice identifies the caller by name if they are in your address book (and also shows the name on the iPhone). Then you have four choices 1) answering, 2) listening a while as the person begins recording a message before I pick up, 3) picking up and at the same time recording the call or 4) letting it go to voicemail. You can add custom messages for different callers in your contact list..
To accommodate visitors to your web page, you can also add a “Call Me” widget. To try it, click the “Call Me” icon below, enter your name and number, and then click “Connect.” Google will first call you at the number entered, then connect you with me for free. (If you’re using a cell phone, your normal use of cell plan minutes apply.) For calls from this blog entry I set the option to go directly to voicemail with a custom greeting. If there are any interesting messages transcribed I’ll post them in the comments.
In addition to the free US calling, there are very inexpensive rates for international calls. You set up a credit balance and then can use Google Voice to call out, internationally. UK, France, and China are 2 cents a minute, Japan, Australia 3¢. To make an international call you dial your Google Voice number from your mobile or landline and it connects you.
The site has frequent opportunities for feedback as they are still tweaking the service A few things I’d like to see are processing of incoming faxes and the ability to dial out from a computer without a telephone.
Conclusion:: Once Google Voice rolls out completely it looks like it will be a strong contender in the voice market. The voice-to-text transcription isn’t perfect but certainly is good enough for most messages and is bound to improve with time.