Google Apps

Grand Central becomes Google Voice with upgraded features

Derek Schauland discusses the new features in Google Voice' s call-forwarding service, now in beta for existing Grand Central customers. Find out why he thinks it's a handy service.

In March, Google released its updates to Grand Central, a call-forwarding service acquired in 2007, as a beta to existing Grand Central users. In the coming weeks, they hope to release it to the public. In this post I am going to look at a few features of the new Google Voice from an overview level. Grand Central is a call-forwarding service that will allow users to send incoming calls to any number of registered devices.

The first thing that is different is the Web interface. Given a choice between the Google-ized pages and the previous Grand Central pages, I have to go with Google. The two interfaces are shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Grand Central and Google Voice inboxes (click to enlarge)

Another feature that is immediately noticeable in Google Voice is SMS messaging. The new service allows users to receive and send text messages from the Web or their phones. This works similarly to the text messaging we are all used to; however, when you send a text the message appears to come from your Google Voice phone number. (In a future post I will examine how Google got this functionality working and why it is extremely cool.)

All calls and SMS messages are kept in an inbox similar to the one Gmail uses, allowing them to be searched and histories kept. There is no G-Mail style archiving or labels, but hopefully that is coming soon. Labels or direct integration into G-mail/Google Apps would be a great addition to the service to cut down the number of inboxes to check.

When reviewing voice or SMS messages, you can also add notes to these messages (Figure B), which remain with the message until it is deleted.

Figure B

Send an SMS message from Google Voice Web interface

Since upgrading to Google Voice about a week ago I have also found the transcription service to be very, very useful. When someone calls and leaves a voicemail on your Google Voice number, the message will be transcribed and e-mailed to you as well as being visible from the Google Voice inbox and mobile Web inbox views. The transcriptions are not perfect, but they are pretty close, and it certainly saves calling to check voicemail.

Why is Google Voice useful?

The service allows you to give out one number and receive calls at any one of the phones you currently use. For example, if I have a phone at my desk that rings when 111-222-3333 is called and my cell number is 111-222-2323, and my home number is 111-222-1515 -- anyone looking to get in touch with me might need to call any one of three numbers. With Google Voice, I get one number and register each of my existing numbers to it, so that I have to give out only the Google Voice number. This way when any contact calls the new number, all the phones I have configured to work with the service will ring.

If my cell number or provider changes (and the number cannot be ported), I register those new numbers with Google Voice and none of my contacts need to be updated. It also can be quite useful for those people with only a cell phone. You can configure a second number, perhaps an office phone, and configure it not to ring. Then, if your cell battery were to fail or you had no service, you could send calls to the second number temporarily.

Another enhanced feature in Google Voice is Groups. Grand Central allowed four groups for call types: Work, Friends, Family, and Other. Most of the time these worked quite well; however, in the new release, Google has allowed users to add their own groups (Figure C). Each group can have its own settings (such as greetings, call screening, or call announce).

Figure C

Groups in Google Voice

These are the new or enhanced features I have found to be most useful so far. As the service grows, I am sure there will be more.

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About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

8 comments
Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

Are you planning to get a Google Voice number when the service goes live?

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

There is no download. The beta is currently open only to users of the former Grand Central service. Once Google opens Voice up to the public registration and selection of number would be all that's needed to get started.

sisqocracker
sisqocracker

I thought it was interesting there was no chat here about the issues they recently had where it was being opened up for a SIP Beta. I'd love to have the service on my Asterisk box via SIP into Google Voice, but without the pesky part where people make calls on yer box at your expense. I'll be on it once those issues are took care of.

gjdinoia
gjdinoia

If you travel outside the US for work like I do, note that the service is not available in all countries. I don't think this is noted anywhere on the website, I found out when I tried to login. Skype is available everywhere, and this seems a much better option.

RayG314
RayG314

You can go to the Google Voice site and request to be added to the beta waiting list.

qmri18
qmri18

Correct me if I am wrong, but can't you just add you Skype number as one of the forward-to numbers, thereby making it available. I believe Skype does charge an additional fee for a "Skype-In" number or service, but if you are using it for business now, it would seem to make sense.

gjdinoia
gjdinoia

This would work fine, but I would not be able to access Google Voice setup screens to change settings. I would have to set up call forwarding before I leave the US, because I'm blocked from logging in due to where I work. If I wanted to change my call forwarding number, I would not be able to.

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