Should You Sign Up for Google Voice? Xconomy Readers Share Their Beta Experiences
Back in March, I wrote a column about Google Voice, the reincarnated version of a voicemail unification service that Google acquired from Grand Central back in 2007. The free service gives you a single phone number for life that isn’t tied to any particular land line or cellular device—instead, calls ring through to whichever phones you specify. Voicemails get stored online and (if you want) transcribed into text e-mails. In my column, I called Google Voice “the end of the phone as we know it,” since a Google Voice number resembles an e-mail address more than an old-fashioned phone line. It goes with you everywhere, can be managed entirely through the Web, and literally turns your voicemails into e-mails.
Google Voice was, and still is, in a private, invitation-only, beta testing phase. When I checked with Google early last week, employees were still saying the service will be available to the general public “soon”—which is the same thing they were saying back in March. But the big day may be approaching. While rumors circulating last week about the service’s impending launch turned out to be false, Google Voice product manager Craig Walker did state, via his public Twitter stream, that “We’re cranking 24/7 to get there.”
In conjunction with my March column, Google kindly provided 100 Google Voice beta invitations for Xconomy readers—and not surprisingly, all of the invitations were snapped up within an hour after we publicized the offer. So in anticipation of the public launch of Google Voice, I decided to ping the lucky 100 beta account winners last Friday to find out how the service has been working out for them, and whether they’d recommend it to others.
The readers who’ve written back so far have been lavish with their praise—at least, the ones who have actually been using their accounts. Several have admitted that they never signed up, or that they signed up but found that Google Voice wasn’t what they expected, or that, as one reader put it, “I would have liked to [use it] but then work (life?) got in the way.” More about the potentially high barriers to adoption below.
Readers who’ve used Google Voice seem to like the way it lets them give out a single phone number to everyone, rather than separate office, home, and cell numbers. Several readers said they like the (somewhat sneaky) feature that lets users listen to callers as they’re leaving a voicemail, and break in if they want to talk to that person directly. And if there’s one feature everyone loves, it’s the automatic transcription of voicemail messages into e-mails—a Google invention that wasn’t part of the original Grand Central service. While Google’s speech-to-text technology is far from perfect, readers say it’s good enough to get the gist of a message across, and that it saves them from the universally dreaded task of actually listening to all their voicemail. (You can browse readers’ detailed comments below.) Xconomy’s CEO and editor-in-chief, Bob Buderi, has been using Google Voice since March, and he also cites voicemail transcription as his favorite feature.
Readers report surprisingly few technical glitches or other difficulties using Google Voice. The problems they do cite tend to be ones that are baked into the service’s design. Most people said it’s too much trouble to make outgoing calls through Google Voice, since users must either call their own Google Voice number first, or go to the Google Voice website. Which leads to another frequent complaint—the caller ID problem. Unless you place all your outgoing calls through Google Voice, then the people you call will see the number of the device you’re calling from, rather than your Google Voice number. That means you have to train everyone not to store your device’s number in their contact list, but to call you back on your Google Voice number instead. That’s plain confusing for everyone.
Asked to say whether they’d recommend Google Voice to a friend or a family member, quite a few readers said “Yes, but…” The “but” was that they’d only recommend it to people who are technically adept—“power users,” in one reader’s phrase. As another reader put it: “The person who is going to use [it] needs to be a bit of a techie (not super technical, but my wife who is not technical would get lost in the concept)…[there are] lots of configuration options which I enjoyed learning and setting up.”
How much have Xconomy readers actually used their Google Voice accounts, in the end? That varies. Some say they’ve made their Google Voice number into their main phone number, and that they use the service extensively every day. Others say … Next Page »