Google Voice Without a New Number
Until now, every story praising Google's Google Voice phone service has had to explain one significant catch: All of its useful features required you to train your friends, relatives, and acquaintances to forget whatever phone number you'd given them and to start using a new one assigned to you by Google.
(See Related: Google Labs Introduces Social Search: See How It Works)
Now there's a workaround: Google has announced a new version of Google Voice that doesn't require you to change your phone number. Once you've configured your phone number to use Google Voice, you pretty much get one specific part of of the service: its excellent voicemail service. You can check your voicemail online (with speech-to-text transcriptions) and play different voicemail greetings for different callers. You can also make cheap international calls. But you don't get a bunch of the other features that make Google Voice Google Voice, including the ability to have incoming calls ring all your phone and to record calls.
Google is working on another option that may beat either of the two existing ones: the ability to port your existing number from a traditional carrier to Google Voice, turning any phone number into a full-blown Google Voice number. In the meantime, this new option is a good way to dabble with Google Voice without committing yourself to it or putting much effort into the process-although you'll still have torequest an invite to the service's private beta and wait until Google ushers you in.