Google Voice, call me!
You may remember my enthusiasm for GrandCentral, a free online voice mail, PBX, and one-#-for-life scheme with fantastic potential for cruising boaters (as well as mere mortals). In that March, 2007, entry I even hoped for/predicted the startup’s purchase by Google, which happened almost immediately. It remained functional, but very quiet, all these months. (I never did use it as a real contact number, because I like the Maine numbers I have, but did use its slick call recording abilities for tasks like testing the Cobra noise cancelling cell mic.) Well, finally GrandCentral has emerged as Google Voice, with several added features like voice-to-text, conferencing, and Skype-style cheap foreign calls (only from whatever U.S. phone you’re near). Let’s test the voice-to-text; if you click on that widget above, you can call my number for free; you’ll hear a voice message I custom recorded to go with the widget, and the message you leave will be converted to text and sent to me via e-mail or text message (along with a link to your recorded message). I tried it once myself and it worked very well, but you may talk funny…
My Google Voice home site, where I can manage messages and settings, is a lot plainer than GrandCentral’s, but with good reason. It’s very similar to the standard Gmail site with which it’s tightly integrated. Those “Groups” seen below are the same groups I’ve established for some of my Gmail contacts, and I can use them to determine who gets through to my phones (one or many), which voice mail greeting they get, and whether or not I want to decide how to handle their call in real time (Call Presentation). Foreign calls can be placed from your phone or this site (it will first connect to whatever phone you’re at), the coverage seems global, and the rates are sweet. Like 3 cents a minute to Chile and 25 cents to Easter Island (also in Chile). But you can’t place calls from a foreign number (yet). And you still can’t port an existing phone number to Google Voice (which I’ve been hoping for), though they say they’re working on it (and they are Google).
The worst thing about Google Voice, though, is that you can’t have it. Like some other reviewers (good detail there), the only reason I do is that I managed to sign up for GrandCentral during the brief period it was open. I could even sell the NYC number I have for a few bucks on eBay. Which is weird, as according to Pogue, Google Voice will be open to all in “a few weeks”. (Note to the nattering nabobs of underwater lights: this is useful!)