Google Voice: Cool, But Not Really New

For all the hoopla over Google Voice, I have to wonder why it's such a big deal. Have people never heard about RingCentral before? Yes, I know we're talking about Google, which apparently makes it an instant hit, but most of the features have been available for years.

As a RingCentral customer, I've had most, maybe all the important features of Google Voice for three or four years. And I have features--like multiple local numbers in different calling areas--that I haven't seen mentioned for Google's service.

What's the difference between the two services? Price: I pay about $200 a year for RingCentral, while Google Voice will be free, at least in the beginning. There are also important feature differences that I'll describe in a moment.

Pricing alone makes Google attractive for me as a home user, but having an 800-number, plus local numbers in several cities, makes RingCentral worth paying a premium for in my business.

RingCentral is also selling multi-line systems, allowing a virtual company to use a single virtual PBX system. This further distances RingCentral from Google Voice, at least for the time being.

I have not actually used Google Voice, except as a caller. My invitation has yet to be sent, though I work with people who already use the service and are extremely happy with it. Much as I am extremely happy with RingCentral.

I am not as happy with AT&T's Unified Messaging, which I am also using. It is connected to my home phone line and will be disconnected as soon as Google Voice can replace it.

What I like most about both RingCentral and Google Voice is their shared ability to ring multiple phones in an attempt to find me. I also like being able to screen calls by listening to an incoming voice message while it is being recorded, and then answer if I want to.

I used to do that with an answering machine and the Google Voice/RingCentral feature is only slightly less useful as you have to answer the call to hear the caller leaving the message.

Google has recording features--sure to be used in ways people will regret--that RingCentral lacks as well as speech-to-text conversion. GVoice also allows specific greetings for specific callers.

The ability to turn voice messages into text and deliver it as e-mail is a Google Voice feature that many people are going to find useful, and something else RingCentral lacks.

Overall, Google Voice is more feature-rich, an issue RingCentral will have to address in order to justify its pricing.

Or maybe it won't have to. Google could get into trouble if its free pricing forces competitors out of business. Maybe RingCentral and its ilk won't get bigfooted by Google after all, though it's pretty hard to compete with free.

David Coursey tweets as techinciter. E-mail him from www.coursey.com/contact.

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