After weeks of anticipation, Google is finally accepting a limited number of new users into its Google Voice phone system. Google Voice allows you to unite all of your phones under a single number and then use a powerful set of controls to determine how calls are handled. It packs plenty of other impressive functionality, too, including voicemail-to-text transcribing and advanced call-screening.
(Check out PC World's review of Google Voice)
At the same time, though, adopting Google Voice as your communications commander introduces some potential negatives, ranging from privacy-related concerns to questions about reliability. Here's a breakdown of five pros and five cons to help you determine whether the service is right for you.
Google Voice: 5 Reasons to Use It
1. Routing power
Google Voice eliminates the problem of having multiple numbers for multiple purposes. Once you sign up and receive a phone number, you input all of your existing numbers--your cell phone, work phone, home phone, and anything else--into the control panel. Then, when you receive a call, all of your phones will ring (or a smaller subset, if you choose), and you can answer on whichever one is most convenient at the time.
The true power, though, comes with Google Voice's advanced routing options. You can set your preferences so that certain calls will ring only certain phones. If, for example, you wanted your spouse's calls to go straight through to your cell phone, or your mother's calls to ring only on your home phone, you could make those specifications. You could even set certain callers to be routed directly into your voicemail.
2. Screening power
Once a call comes through, you have a whole new set of options. When you pick up the call, and while the caller still hears ringing, you'll be presented with the person's name and four options: answer the call, send it to voicemail, send it to voicemail and listen in live, or answer and record the call.
Google Voice uses information from your address book to tell you who's calling. If the caller isn't in your contacts list, Google Voice can ask for their name and play it back for you when you pick up.
3. Voicemail power
As mentioned above, Google Voice's voicemail system allows you to listen in while someone is recording a message. If you decide to pick up midmessage, you simply press the star key and begin talking.
Google Voice's voicemail is fully accessible over the Web, too: You can listen to voicemail online, forward voice messages to other users, and even embed them on other Web sites. Google Voice also offers text transcriptions of your voice messages and the ability to receive them via e-mail or text message.
4. SMS power
SMS is fully integrated into Google Voice. If someone sends a message to your Google number, the service will route it to any mobile phones you have connected. You can reply to text messages from any phone as well, or via the Google Voice Web interface.
Google Voice can also store all of your text messages within its Web interface for permanent archiving. That means every text you've ever sent or received can be filed, searched, and kept forever--as if it were e-mail. Like Gmail, the Google Voice Web system displays back-and-forth messages as conversations to make following dialogues easier.
5. Midcall power
Google Voice gives you added power while you're in the middle of a call, too. You can start and stop recording calls with the touch of a single button, and then access those recordings online. You can also switch phones without having to interrupt the call: You simply press the star key while talking, and your other connected phones will begin to ring. At that point, you can pick any of them up, hang the original phone up, and go about your conversation as if nothing had happened.
Next: Google Voice: 5 Reasons to Think Twice