Google Voice: One Number & More

In Mike’s post, “Google Voice: One Number to Rule Them All“, he went through what Google Voice is, and why he likes it. If you don’t understand what Google Voice is, I would suggest that you read that post before continuing here. I won’t be going into all the features here. I am going to focus on the features that, for my specific use, I think could use a bit more discussion.

Incase you still did not read Mike’s post, and are not clear on Google Voice, let me do the short version. First thing is, it’s in BETA. You can request an invite to the BETA on the Google Voice Site. Google Voice is a free service where you are given a phone number. Yes, another phone number. But this phone number is special. To start with you have a say in what number you get. Using wild cards you search for a number pattern of your choice. Let’s say your name is Joe. You could search for ‘*4JOE’. That might return 555-555-4JOE. A free vanity number. Cool.

Virtual Phone Router

From there, the number works as a virtual phone switch that you control. Unlike the phone numbers we are used to, a Google Voice number has no physical location. You know, home phone, work phone, mobile phone etc. Location based phones don’t work well anymore. Our lives move too fast. For example, have you ever called someone at home only to end up leaving a message like “I’ll try you on the cell”? That’s because you called the wrong location. You didn’t want a location anyway, you wanted a person.

As a Google Voice user you setup a connection between your Google Voice number and the physical phones in your life. Calling the Google Voice number rings all of them at once. Yes, it can be loud when every phone rings, but as you’ll see, you are in control. From the caller’s perspective it’s only one number, the Google Voice number. You don’t need to give people your cell phone number or your home phone number, but you can still use those phones. Just give everyone the Google Voice number and you’re done.

Your Phone System

What about callers you don’t want calling all your phones? I don’t want clients ringing my home phone. (There are some family I don’t want ringing it either, but that’s another story.) With Google Voice, you control what phones rings, and during what hours.

There are some people, such as my family, that I want to reach me anytime, anywhere and on any phone. Some callers should only ring my office phone. Others still should only ring my cell. Using my Google contacts, which I sync from my Mac, I am able to control what phones ring based on the caller ID of who is calling. I can control it at a global level, which is applied for unknown callers. I can change those settings at a group level, so my clients only ring the office & cell, and I can control it at an individual level, so my wife can reach me anywhere. It’s very granular. I can even assign a custom greeting at the global, group or individual level. One area where the granularity is missing is the time settings I mentioned. You can set the hours of the day any phone is allowed to ring but, as of this writting, it is a global setting. That for me renders it useless. I was going to restrict my home and cell phone hours but need the alarm company, my wife and son to be able to reach me anytime. It needs to be set at the group level to be useful to me. Maybe someday.

Anti-spam Google Voice Style

Sometimes, you run across someone you don’t want calling at all. One feature I used for the first time this weekend is the SPAM feature. Drunk guy calls asking for Trisha and I tell him it’s he has the wrong number. He calls back, for another girl. My first thought was ‘why do drunk guys know so many girls?’, and then I tell him wrong number again. Five times he called. The fifth was just to say he was sorry. That was nice and all, but before he could call again I logged into my Google Voice acount, found his calls in the history list, and blocked him. Now if he calls again, he’ll get a message saying the number is not in service. This is great for web forms that require a phone number. Way cool!

Call Screening and Call Presentation

These two confuse some people. Call Screening is a system where a first time caller is asked to say their name. That name is then used in the presentation.

Call Presentation is an extension to screening. With Call Presentation ON, I am presented various options for incoming calls. For example, Mike calls my Google Voice number. He is asked to say his name. Then the configured phones ring and I answer any one of them, let’s say on my office phone. The Google Voice system then presents me with four choices:

  • Press 1 to accept the call.
  • Press 2 to send the caller to voicemail.
  • Press 3 to send the caller to voicemail and listen in.
  • Press 4 to accept the call and record it.

Let’s look at 3 & 4 because that’s the power here. Any system can accept a call or send a call to voicemail, but listen in and record it? Even on mobile phone? We have all screened calls as people leave a message on our answering machine. Yeah right, just me. It’s not to be rude, but if mom is calling to chat during “The Amazing Race” you let the message record. That rule may even be written in book somewhere. If she’s calling to tell you she won the lottery, then that’s different. Well, number 3 let’s you listen live as the caller leaves the voicemail. Pressing the ‘*’ key, at anytime during the message, allows you to join the conversation. Yes, even from your cell in the car. Option 4, recording the call, is a touchy one. In most states you are not supposed to record anyone without their knowledge. Because of that, if you choose option 4, it announces on both ends of the call that “Call recording is on”. If you answered the call without recording it, and later need to start recording, you can simply press the number ‘4’ key at any time to start recording. Again, with an announcement. Great when mid-conversation someone is offering directions.

Call Transfer

I didn’t think about this one a lot until last week. The idea is that you answer a call on one phone, say on the home phone, and need to switch phones mid call. Maybe you need to leave home for work. In the traditional system we say something like “Can I call you back from my cell?”. In the GV world you press ‘*’. All the configured phones ring, but you are the caller! You answer on your cell, hang up the home line, and move on with your call. The other person may not even realize you switched. I have used this feature, but I ran across a general Google Voice issue the other day this is perfect for. Someone called the Google Voice number and I was out of the house. Before I was able to answer the call on my cell, my son answered on the home phone. He told them I was not home, asked them to call again, and he let me answer first. If he had known about this function, he could have just hit the ‘*’ key. All my phones would ring, I could answer and join the call, and then he could hang up. Amazing stuff.

Voicemail & Transcription

The biggest issue I have had with Google Voice is the voicemail. I am used to getting my voicemails on my iPhone. With Google Voice they are in the cloud. Some platforms, Blackberry and Android, allow Google Voice applications on the phone. The iPhone had an app, GV Mobile, that was pulled by Apple. I am lucky enough to have downloaded it before it vanished. Google submitted an official app that was the subject of an FCC investigation. There are features of Google Voice that help you work around this. Voicemail messages can be transcribed, and those transcriptions can be sent to you via email and/or SMS. The email also has a link the actual voicemail. That is a good thing because the transcriptions are maybe 70% accurate. That’s usually enough to get the idea of the message, but not always.


I do agree with Mike that Google Voice is not perfect. The system is designed as an incoming service. Outgoing calls are tough when you are calling from a physical phone that has it’s own caller ID. The person you call ends up seeing the cell number you tried to not give them. There are ways to make it work but they are not fast and easy. Still, I love it. I love the concept, and the implementation almost meets the concept. As I mentioned above, it is still in BETA but you can request an invite on the Google Voice site. Get in early if you want a better chance at getting a good vanity number.

4 Responses to “Google Voice: One Number & More”

  1. Michael says:

    There is an important drawback to listening to GV voicemail if you aren’t actually placing a call to your Google Voice number. On the iPhone, audio played back from a “media” source (iPod, Safari and even the GV app) does not play through Bluetooth (“hands free”) headsets. Since the audio file is served as data rather than a phone call, it is considered “media”. So if you want to hear your GV voicemail privately, you need to use a wired headset or find a secluded spot.

    (OK, it will work with stereo Bluetooth headsets, but you get the point)

  2. Razz says:

    Glad you added that last line there. The third party GV Mobile iPhone app, having not been updated, does not work with the Stereo BT Headset, but the official GV mobile website, through mobile Safari, does. Of course iPod audio works fine too. With the iPhone now having stereo BT, and me owning the BackBeat 903, I just use the mobile safari and the Google mobile site. Owning an iPhone with it abilities is best with a Stereo BT headset anyway in my opinion.

  3. Mark, Sr. says:

    On your Call Transfer example, you have to trust that your son WOULD hang up . . .

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