The telecom service Google Voice has been giving now new accounts faster recently, as well as now letting some current users invite others. I already have an account from back when it was GrandCentral, but I just requested an invite from Google and got an invite within 3 days.* Since it appears they are ready to open things up, I thought it might a good time to explore ways that this service can enhance your calling experience and even save you some money.
Google Voice provides you a free phone number, designed to be your primary number, which you can then link up with your existing phone numbers – work, home, and mobile. This About Page provides a nice round-up of the features of Google Voice. Here are the ones I’ve found most useful:
- Ring All Phones. You can choose to ring all your phones when someone calls your GV number, and pick up any one of them.
- Call Screening / Routing / Blocking. If the number is unknown to you, then they have to announce themselves and then you can decide whether to take the call or send it to voicemail. The caller never knows if you actually got the call. You can route specific callers to specific phones, or just block them so you never have to take their call.
- Voicemail to Text. Voicemail messages are transcribed to text for free, and can also be sent to you via SMS text message. It’s not perfect, but you can usually get the gist of the message.
One major way that Google Voice can save you money is by reducing the number of “peak” cell phone minutes you use, so that you can either drop down to the cheapest plan or even go prepaid if you’d like.
Ring All. Since all your phones ring, you can pick up your work phone or landline if it is more convenient, when usually people would just call your cell phone by default. This could reduce your minute usage more than you think.
Never Use Up Any Cell Minutes Using Calling Circles. Also known as T-Mobile MyFaves, Verizon Friends & Family, Sprint Pick3, and AT&T’s A-List. Simply add your GV# to these calling circle programs, and every incoming call can now be free. You’ll need to set the caller ID to show your GV#, and not the originating caller’s ID. However, since there is the screening option where every caller has to state their name, you can still find out who’s calling before answering.
Calling out can be free as well, if a bit more hassle. You can also dial out for free by calling your GV# first, press 2, and then enter the number you wish to dial. If you have internet access it’s easier, just click on the contact on GV website.
Free Long Distance From Landline. If you really want a POTS landline, you can now switch to the cheapest local plan with no long distance. When you want to dial long distance, just call your GV# and have it dial out from there. (If you don’t have a GV# within your local calling area, you must dial out using the internet.) Calls are free to US and Canada.
Free Text Messages. You can send and receive text messages through GV for free. This can be a bit of a hassle, but perhaps you have unlimited data but hate the idea of paying another $10 a month for text messages. (I mean, how are text messages not included under data??) With a data plan, just use your phone web browser or specific GV app for your phone.
Other Possible Uses
Extra Business Number. Instead of using it as your central number, use GV as an alternative number for your business venture, superhero alter ego, or whatever.
For Minimalists / Nomads. Even if you don’t have a landline, VoIP, or even a constant cell-phone, you can now get a phone permanent number. You can access your voicemails online, and call back when you feel like it. Some users have dropped everything except for a prepaid cell phone plan costing less than $10 per month.
Got more tips? Share them in the comments. Want a Google Voice account? Request an invitation here.
(*This is pure speculation, but I used a non-yahoo/gmail/hotmail “paid” e-mail and think it might get a faster response due to the people abusing things by trying to re-sell invites on eBay.)
By Jonathan Ping | Frugal Living | 10/20/09, 5:20am