I posted a few weeks ago Google Voice Opens the Flood Gates Today which generated a lot of discussion. I've been asked both online and offline about what I thought about it now that I've had a chance to use it. So here it is.
First thing, although I signed up for Google Voice a very very long time ago, it still took weeks to get my invite, so this indeed is a fresh opinion because I've been using it now for about a week.
Here's what I like about Google Voice and they do well (The Good)
1. Simplicity - There's a lot to be said today for building an uncomplicated system. So many web and software app designers are out there to cram every last feature into an application so it caters to everyone, and equally confuses everyone or requires training. Not the case with Voice. The interface is extremely clean and shows only what is necessary and nothing else. I really like this. The interface is similar to Gmail in many ways, only even cleaner.
Going further on the simplicity topic. Setting up Google Voice took all of about 10 minutes. I took my time, and could have easily done it in 5. You pick a number from their list of available numbers, add your other phone numbers (cell, home, work, etc). It's easy to add numbers later and the call routing is very (almost too) easy to tell it which phone to ring when.
2. Transcription & Call Routing - It only stands to reason that computers are capable these days of reading voices and converting them to text. While others have done this before (youmail, etc), Google makes the process seamless and perhaps most important FREE. While the transcription quality could use some work (read more on this later), Voice will do some really nice things with the transcribed message. Namely they will email it once it's transcribed and/or SMS it to my cell phone.
This opens up a whole new idea to me. It's not advertised as an option by Google, but I've found it very useful. My personal cell gets way too many calls, and most of the time I have to let them go to voicemail. It's always been a chore to call in, get my voicemails, write them down, and call them back. I certainly am not (at this time anyways) going to give everyone a new number to reach me at. What I've done is told my cell phone to forward unanswered calls to my Google Voice number. As a result my cell never receives voicemails any more (YAY!). Voice takes the call, transcribes it, and SMSs me the message. Reading the message in an email or SMS tends to take me just a few seconds, and also lets me know how important the message is without the time consuming process of calling in and listening to all the messages. I absolutely love the time savings.
3. Call Recording - I actually haven't used this feature, but I assume it works as advertised and it looks very simple to use. Click a button and the call gets recorded for future reference. I guess my only word of caution here is some states legally require both sides be aware that the call is being recorded, so use with care.
4. Call Widgets - Hidden in the Settings of Google Voice is a little feature called 'Call Widget'. It's a simple click-me icon that can go on your website that says "Call Me". Google then calls the person first, then calls any phone I specify and connects the two calls. Google provides the long distance at no cost both ways. What an absolutely cool feature, that I haven't yet tried but am excited to.
5. Free Calling - Most people take this for granted these days with cell plans, etc; however my Google Voice account lets me call anywhere in the country for free. Doesn't cost a single penny. Even Skype would charge 2c/minute and they used to be the cheapest solution. I think Google is paying for this with reciprical compensation from the phone companies, and I applaud them for providing these connections anywhere in the US for free.
Here's what I don't like (The Bad)
1. Transcription - I have a love/hate relationship with the transcription. If I call in and speak very clearly it's darn near 100% accurate. However, it seems I don't leave myself very many voicemails, go figure. The typical caller speaks quickly and in their own inflections, which aren't necessarily completely understood by Voice. I'm going to give their transcription a C- for effectiveness. Even so, generally even when I get a transcribed voicemail that's totally wrong, I can often still make-out the topic and get a good idea if it's an important message or not. Here's an example of my test call, speaking clearly it only got one word wrong. However, clickin the Play button within Voice is simpler than pretty much any voicemail system *ever*, so it's easy to listen to messages that don't transcribe well.
I do like how Google highlights the words it's more certain about, and when playing the message it underlines the word it's on.
2. Only one phone number - Google must realize people are going to use this service not only for their personal but for their business stuff as well. As such, I would really like to have a single Voice account, with multiple inbound numbers, one for each business and one for personal and be able to sort and route accordingly. The only way around this I see is to setup two separate Voice accounts with 2 separate numbers. It's somewhat complicated to manage 2 separate accounts though. I certainly would be willing to pay for the extra numbers for this added convenience.
Google keeps track of the phone numbers tied to each account. I can't tie my cell phone into both accounts as Google will spew an error (phone already in use on another account). Therefore I'm restricted to receive my voicemails as SMS on my cell from one or the other. This is a silly limitation IMHO.
Finally.. The Ugly (or not)
Some might ask why Google continues building interfaces with so little graphical flare. Some say their interfaces are "Ugly". I'm in total disagreement here. The lack of graphics make the page load fast, not use much memory on my computer, and make it possible to navigate on a mobile device. I'm going to throw out a big BRAVO for Google on keeping the interface clean and simple. Thank you Google.
So my big question for Google. They make 98%+ of their billions on advertising. I'm not seeing any advertising here in my Google Voice mailbox, anywhere. It would be really nice to know how Google plans to make money off this product. I'm sure it won't be free, useful, and ad-free forever.
Overall, I'm going to give the entire Google Voice experience a C+. If they allow multiple phone numbers, and improve on the transcription it could easily be an A, but those are big ticket items for me. I'm going to continue using it, and even be purchasing an Android phone here really soon (HTC Hero I think), which has a Google Voice application for true visual voicemail far better than Apple/AT&T's attempt.
Finally, I wrote my review purposely before reading anybody elses. Here's some links to what some other AR members think about Google Voice:
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