The service gives you two options:
1. Use your existing number:
- transcribed voicemail online
- low cost international calls
- custom greetings for callers
2. Get a Google number:
- same features as above
- Google number can ring on multiply phones (more on this later)
- get transcribed voicemails via SMS text
- advanced call screening
I went with option two. Here's why. My employer requires me to carry a cell phone for my position. They used to provide me with a cell phone, but policies from higher up--not the local unit--would not allow me to take zero cost personal calls on the phone. So, rather than have to carry two phones, I turned theirs back to them, and got my own cell phone and agreed to take work calls on that phone.
Years of experience has taught me that people tend to skip trying to contact me at my desk phone, and instead call my cell phone. I have always been a frugal type, and while it bugged me even when they were calling the employer's phone, I really did not want them eating up minutes on my personal plan when they could just as easily call me at my desk phone.
(Hey--Northern Cheapskate--you will be really proud of this...) So, I signed up for a Google phone number to solve my problems and really extend the versatility of my phone. Here's how I leverage it.
First of all, Google let me search for a phone number I wanted to use. I found one that I like in the 651 area code, selected it, and Google assigned it to me right on the spot. Within 5 minutes it was working for me.
Now I have a Google phone number to give out to work related contacts. They don't need my real cell number (you'll see why shortly). I only give my real cell number to friends and family.
Cool--Next, I configured it to ring on my cell phone and my desk phone. That's right, when you call my Google phone number, it rings on both my desk phone and my cell phone simultaneously. (I can make it ring on more phone if I want, and can set up temporary ones too.) Which ever one I answer connects me to the caller. So, if I am at my desk and someone calls my cell phone, I can avoid using my plan minutes and answer it on my "land line".
The caller cannot see my real number, just my Google number. I can place outbound calls from the Google number using my cell phone too.
Even More Cool--I let Google Voice act as my voice mail for my cell phone. If I don't answer the call, the caller can leave a voice message. The service will then transcribe the voice message into text, and send it to my phone via SMS (text message).
Why is this so useful? Well, I try to practice pretty decent cell phone etiquette: I don't take calls in the car, during meetings or when conversing with someone face to face. But, since I am on call most of the time, I can wait for the text message to come through (which happens quickly after the caller leaves the voice message) and determine at a glance if it is something that I need to respond to immediately. If not, I can wait until I am finished with whatever I am doing at the time.
There are even more features to this phone number, such as call screening, custom greetings for individual callers or groups of callers, block lists, etc. I cannot comment on their utility, as I have not bothered to use them yet. The ability to ring on multiple phones and voice to text transcription make the application useful enough for me.
There Aint No Free Lunch
The service is in "Beta" stage right now, and is free (I don't have to pay for the number either). I don't know how google can afford to give it away, but, as long as they do, I'll take advantage of it. It is worth noting that the voicemails are stored on Google's servers, and that they actively scan all of the messages with their transcription tools. I suspect they are using these messages to test out their transcription software which they hope to "perfect" or optimize for speech to text web browsing.
Would I pay a fee for this service? you bet, if it was reasonable. I wont show my hand on this amount yet, but it sure is worth something to me.
You can request a Google Voice account (it's by invite only right now) at voice.google.com but expect to wait a while to get your invitation to participate.