Give Your Phone a Voice!

M_Curcio_80By Mike Curcio
Student at Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

Google Voice (Voice) is a telephony management service offered by Google. Like their other services, Voice is free-of-charge, with the exception of international calls. If you already have a personal Google account, and, with 425 million active Gmail users worldwide, chances are that you do, getting started with Voice can be very easy.


One of the initial steps in the setup process is selecting a phone number. Voice can assign users a phone number from most U.S. area codes (Alaska and Hawaiʻi users cannot currently obtain local phone numbers through Voice). Alternatively, users can choose their own phone number in many area codes. Let’s say you own a pet grooming company. You could check the availability of the number “DOG-WASH” or “364-9274.”

Voice is officially available to users in the U.S. only, but I have successfully used it in Japan with no problems, making and receiving free calls and text messages to and from the U.S. via Voice’s web interface. With the help of a WiFi connection and another free Android App, GrooveIP, I was also able to use my phone to send and receive calls and text messages, just as I would at home, without being charged for data or minutes. U.S.-based international students may want to set up Voice accounts for their families back home.  

Sprint mobile customers have the option to integrate their existing phone number into Voice. As a Sprint customer, I’ve taken advantage of this partnership. I’ve had my mobile phone number for over a decade and would rather not go through the hassle of sending everyone a new phone number. I have read in online forums that some Sprint customers with 808 mobile numbers have been able to integrate it into Voice, although I cannot verify this.

So you’ve successfully set up Voice for your pet grooming company. Unfortunately, your business partner called in sick and you cannot hear the phone at the front desk while you’re giving that Golden Retriever a mohawk in the spa room. What to do? Tell Voice to ring your cell phone in addition to your work landline during business hours. With Voice, users can have multiple phones ring whenever a call is placed to their Voice number. Users can choose which phone(s) will ring depending on the time of day and on the caller.

As a spoiled member of a generation of people who grew up with computers, I have a short attention span, and I’ve always considered retrieving voicemail messages to be a chore. It used to be that I had to dial a phone number and navigate a maze-like menu in order to listen to a voicemail message that most likely sounded like this: “Hey, it’s Nate. Give me a call.” Smartphones made voicemail retrieval much easier, with only a couple of screen presses required. Voice takes this a step further, automatically transcribing voicemails and sending a text message of the transcription to the user’s phone along with the audio voicemail message.

Additionally, voicemail messages and their transcriptions are saved in an email in the user’s Gmail account. Users then have a permanent, searchable record of every voicemail that they receive. For me, this is easily the most useful feature. Now I don’t have to go through the trouble of holding the phone to my face to listen to a voicemail; I can simply read it on the screen. I’ve found the transcriptions to be accurate on the whole, and they’re almost always accurate enough to understand the point of the message. Users have the option to “donate” voicemails for analysis to help improve the accuracy of future transcriptions.

Not sure if you want to take that call from your mom right now? Find out what she’s calling about before you answer. With Voice’s call screening feature, users can listen to voicemail messages as they are being recorded. They can then decide to take the call or to let the caller finish the message. Users also have the ability to block callers.

Another feature of Voice is the ability to create different voicemail greetings for different callers. If your pet grooming company phone number is the same as your personal cell phone number, you could create one voicemail greeting for callers in your “friends” contact group, e.g., “Hey, you’ve called Mike. Leave a message.” You could direct all other calls to your company voicemail greeting, e.g., “Aloha. You’ve reached Kama’aina Pet Grooming Service….” My classmate Ian Kim found this feature particularly useful: “I really like that you can set up different voice mail messages for different callers. I use a more professional sounding one on my Voice number.”

Other features not discussed in this article include conference calling, cheap international calls, and phone number porting. As I’ve mentioned, Voice is not without its flaws. The biggest drawback for me as a Hawai’i resident is that I cannot get a local phone number. Likewise, my classmate, Kristie-Lee Oshiro, finds the lack of local numbers to be disconcerting: “[G]oogle voice sounds great.… However, I have a[n] 808 number as do most of us in Hawai’i.”

Another feature that I would welcome is the ability to send and receive faxes. I have been using Voice for about two months now, and despite its shortcomings, I highly recommend it. The convenience of the voicemail transcription feature alone was worth the trouble of the setup process. Many Google Play Store reviewers agree, having given Voice an average rating of 4.2/5 stars out of over 100,000 reviews. The editors of CNet also concur, concluding in their review, “Overall, I think Google Voice is a fantastic service that’s worth signing up for.” PC Magazine rated Voice for Android, “Excellent,” noting that “Google Voice for Android is the best way to use Google Voice on a cell phone.”

Install Voice today on your Android device to further integrate your communications world.

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