Google Voice Review: Finally! Someone to bully the phone companies!

I’m sure everyone reading this post can relate to the fact that long distance phone calls from a mobile phone are generally too expensive to even think about making. And when you do make them, you rush through the conversation as quickly as possible in order to fit a 5 or 10 minute conversation into 2 minutes (or no more than 1 minute 59 seconds, so as to avoid the 3rd minute charge). As I live overseas, away from all my friends and family, this is an issue that often bothers me. In all honesty, it sucks. It has been my number one complaint, and would be the first thing i’d fix with my wireless service. CHEAPER LONG DISTANCE CALLING.
But how about FREE long distance calling? That sounds even better. In fact, that sounds great. At this point, I should assure you that I’m not trying to sell anything, I dont have some magical calling card, or some magical jack (if you’ve seen the infomercial). I am just about to climb up to the virtual rooftops and shout out to whoever’s listening about my new discovery. Google Voice.
Google Voice is a recently released innovation from internet giants Google (obviously), which is essentially an internet phone number. It exists in some magical space somewhere in the middle of the internet (read “I have no idea how it works”). But I also dont care how it works. All I know, is that through my data plan, I am now able to make and receive as many long distance calls as I like to Canada and the US for free. Absolutely free.
To sign up for Google Voice, I had to fill out a little form on their website (www.google.com/voice), and then wait for an invite. The invite took about a month to arrive in my inbox, but when it did, I went to work setting up my account. Along with the standard stuff like name, address, email address etc, you also get to choose your phone number. They give you the option to type a word, and then they will show you the options you have which include the word you gave them. In my case, i put in the word PANT. (pretty self explanatory if you’re reading this blog). And up came several options such as 55-PANT-6586 or 3-PANT-40596. But I wanted something with PANT on the end, so I chose to randomly generate another set of numbers, then another, then another until I finally came across one which had multiple numbers and PANT at the end. I obviously won’t post the number here, but its to the effect of
(55*) 6**-PANT.
Great. so now I had my personalized number, I was incredibly sceptical. Where is the catch. When do I have to put in a credit card number. I’m happy to say, this step never came. I clicked finish and it redirected me to my newly acquired Google Voice inbox. At this point, it is essentially the same as a Skype account. I’m not incredibly familiar with Skype, I have just started using it (mainly for video chats), but it seems that you can make and receive calls on your computer. Same as Google Voice. So whats the big deal?
I remember reading on Crackberry.com, one of my favourite blogs, that there was recently a free Google Voice Dialer app released for the blackberry. At the point when I read that post, I had no idea what they were talking about, and didnt think much of it. But it popped back into my head when I set up my GV account, and I went looking for it. Relatively easily, I found it and installed it on my blackberry. When i opened up the app, it looked very similar to a dialing screen on any phone. It finally hit me. “Can I really just dial in a number here, in this app, and it will automatically call from my Google Voice number?”. Excited, I dialed a friend of mine’s phone number up in Winnipeg, Canada…and it started ringing.
Then…he answered. “Hello?” he asked, with a confused tone in his voice…I said hello back…and he said “What is Badger California?” He was referring to the caller ID that showed up when I called. The area code that I chose from my google voice number happens to be from a city (or town) called Badger in California. I quickly explained the situation to him and told him I was just testing it out.
Success.
I asked him to call the number back. Sure enough it rang. When i answered, an automated voice said “You are receiving a call from….(my friends recorded voice saying his name). press 1 to answer the call, press 2 to leave a voicemail…and press 3 to listen in on the voicemail.” I pressed 1, and sure enough, there he was. plain and simple.
So now that I have taken an extensively long route of explaining the process, I will go into the facts. The GV app for blackberry basically allows you to forward your GV number to your mobile phone (which I chose. You can also choose to forward it to your house phone, or your work phone, or all three of your phones). So when someone dials it, your cell phone rings. If you call someone through the GV app instead of through your normal phone dialer, you call through your GV number. Amazing. Too good to be true, right? Unfortunately….right.
First of all, Google Voice is ONLY available in the US at the time of this post. You cannot sign up for it in Canada, or anywhere else for that matter. Secondly, free calls are limited to continental North America. You have to load your Google Voice account with money in order to call any other countries (much like Skype). Giving credit where credit is due, the rates are actually very good (for example 2 cents a minutes to the UK). Third, iphone users…for the time being..you are out of luck. Apple has rejected Google’s bid for a GV app in the app store (an interesting controversy if you want to read more).
I really apologize for rambling on for so long, but if you’ve made it this far, you’ve obviously found it interesting. So if you have a blackberry, and you live in the US (or visit often, like me) then get your little fingers typing on to http://www.google.com/voice and sign up for an invite. You will be glad you did.
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