Google Voice voicemail for your cell

Google just announced today (or yesterday?) that you can now have Google Voice’s voicemail replace your cell phone’s voicemail.

http://googlevoiceblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/google-voice-with-your-existing-number.html

What this means is you can now have all of your voicemails handled by one service provider.  This feature only works with cell phones (most US carriers supported) but not landlines, VoIP or SIP phones yet.

I switched my iPhone voicemail over to Google Voice today for a trial period.  I’ll see if I like it and report back.  My first attempt wasn’t perfect – it took nearly four additional rings after I ignored a test call for Google Voice to pick up.  A total of eight rings is way too much for most callers to wait to leave a message.

One important thing to note – you will most likely have to pay airtime for the call while it is RINGING and inside of your Google Voice mailbox.  You’re not going to get something for free :).

Two Weeks with Google Voice

I finally got my Google Voice fka GrandCentral invite last week.  I have to admit, I got really giddy like a kid getting candy when I saw the invite come through e-mail.  So, I signed up, put my phone numbers in and have had two weeks to try it out.  The verdict so far?  It still needs some work but I love it simply because its free and super convenient.

Voicemail

Google Voice’s main focus is on voice calls, obviously.  You get one virtual phone number that rings all of your phones and a centralized voicemail system.  This is very reminiscent of Vonage’s multiring service but with one small (and very important) difference.  Google Voice announces the call which prevents your individual voicemail / answering machines from snatching the call.  This allows the Google Voice mailbox to truly hang onto the call and make it the only place you need to check for messages.

Google Voice’s voicemail center feels like Gmail.  Its even integrated with your Google Contacts from Gmail.  I had to set up synchronization between my Apple Address Book on my Mac and Gmail so that all my calls had the same metadata as my cell phone.  After some screwing around, I got that to work.

SMS

I was very pleasantly surprised to find SMS supported in Google Voice.  You can send and receive SMS (read – NOT MMS) messages from the Google Voice interface for free.  Messages hit your contacts with your Google Voice number and replies are copied to your cell phone on file.  The text messages going to your cell phone come from a “fake” phone number that allows you to reply, looping through Google Voice, and out to your contact.  Doing this allows GV to retain your SMS history and it hides your cell number from the contact.  Only caveat – it prefixes the message with the sender’s name, which can make a 140 character message actually come across your cell phone as two messages.  You can, however, disable SMS to your phone but then you’re responsible for checking your GV inbox for incoming texts.

Customization

Google Voice allows you to create special voicemail greetings based on groups you set up or for individual contacts (based on the incoming phone number).  Cell phone providers like AT&T have features like this but they tack on a large monthly fee to cover this.  It’s nice being able to have family and friends get an informal greeting whereas my standard greeting is more business-like.

Convenience

Ultimately, Google Voice is something I am going to take full advantage of.  I am a software consultant and frequently have to give clients a phone number to contact me after hours.  I do not like giving my personal cell phone number out simply because my employer does not reimburse me for the expense nor is that time truly billable to the client.  I have an extension at my employer that is in itself virtual.  Up until this point, that extension rang my cell phone.  It was nice being able to give out an extension number instead of my cell, but again my cell voicemail took the calls.  I don’t want to have to leave a professional greeting on my cell phone.  Now, I can associate the outgoing phone number at work with a professional greeting and the callers won’t know they’re calling outside of work.

Also, I do not have a guarantee of having cell phone coverage nor a desk phone when I’m at a client.  Google Voice hooks into Gizmo5, a Skype-type service.  This means that if I have outside Internet access, my Google Voice number can also dial my computer as well as my other phones.  GV also can initiate a call for  you, forward the call to your Gizmo5 SIP number – essentially giving you free outgoing calls.

Is it worth it?

Yes.  Be advised, you’re putting call history, voicemail, and SMS in the hands of a third party.  I’m okay with this since AT&T already logs my SMS messages and has the capability to pull call records and voicemails.  Its really no different.  Get on the waiting list!!