Google Voice – One Year In – And Why You Need It

I’ve been using Google Voice for just over a year now.  Here’s what I love about it, and here’s what I can’t stand.

What is Google Voice?:

It’s a voice management system (handling phone calls and text messages) available online and through an app – you can place calls through it, send text messages through it, have your voicemails dictated and sent as text messages, have calls ring your work or home phone, and much more.

Google Voice was first made publicly available as a service from a company called Grand Central starting in 2005, with the phrase “one number for life” – but it had to be a number provided by Grand Central.  This was not a good fit if you had already given out your number to many people.  Ultimately, the service was purchased by Google in 2007, made publicly available in 2009 – and in 2011, Google began to offer number porting, allowing you to bring your own phone number to the service for the low cost of $20.

My Premise:

I started a job that paid for an Android Smartphone (HTC Sensation 4G) on T-Mobile.  I could have kept my Verizon Wireless line and Smartphone, but paying for a personal phone (with a $30 data plan) while my job provided a phone with a data plan made no sense. Why carry two phones in this day and age anyway?

And so, I ported my personal number to Google Voice in September 2011 and downloaded the Android app.  Initially, even though the port was complete and I could receive calls on my personal phone number, text messages took about 3 weeks to start working.  During that time, I have no idea how many people texted me, since I never got any of the messages.

Once I was up and running, things were simple – mostly. Receiving calls and text messages worked flawlessly.  Sending text messages via the app is easy – when I choose a contact in my address book, and the phone asks if I want to use my work number, or my Google Voice number to send them a text. Making phone calls works the same way – although you can tell the phone to always make calls using your Google Voice number, or to never make calls using your Google Voice number.

The best parts of Google Voice involve sending and receiving text messages via the website.  I can now send texts as fast as I can type – and I feel sorry for anyone forced to have a conversation with me over text message, especially if they don’t have Swype or a physical keyboard.  My messages are comfortably typed and completely formatted, and I never have to pick up my phone.
Google Voice permits you to use the website or app to search your text message history. This is great, but the best part is that whenever you get a new phone, your text message and voicemail history stays with you. However, I have noticed that the search only seems to search back a few months, not your entire history.  This might be a bug.

Additionally, text messaging is free with Google Voice. So if you have a high text messaging bill – this could be your way to save some serious cash. But there is a downside to this, which is detailed below.

The worst parts of Google Voice involve the lack of ability to send and receive picture messages and sending a text message in an area with bad signal.  I’m not one to take cell phone pictures, so this doesn’t affect me too much.  However, sometimes people will ask me “what did you think of that error message I sent you?” or “Did you get that crazy picture I sent?” at which point I have to tell them that I don’t get picture messages, and they should email me the picture instead.   Google’s system handles this situation poorly – rather than tell you a message with a picture was sent and include the sender’s name/number – you get nothing. From the perspective of a user, the complete lack of notification is a disservice.

Trying to send a text message in an area with bad signal is a completely terrible experience. On a normal phone, text messages are sent using the small, unused “notification” channel, and can be sent with only one bar of signal, sometimes less. With Google Voice on your phone, messages are sent as data, so you need to have a solid data connection to send a text message. If not – the phone just says “sending …” forever.  Google knows this is a problem, and has added a “queue” feature to the latest version of the Google Voice app – text messages will remain in queue until you are in an area with good signal, at which point they will send out.

Google Voice also works over wifi, so if there’s no cell signal or the network is overloaded (like during Hurricane Sandy), if I’m connected to a wifi network, I can still send and receive messages. Calls can be made in the same way with the “GrooveIP” app, but I haven’t had the need for that just yet. However, if traveling internationally, that would be a great solution to avoid international dialing and roaming costs while still staying connected.

Bottom Line: If you’re looking to manage multiple numbers or get more control over your text messages and voicemails – Google Voice is a great free solution.