Google Voice now open to all in the U.S.
Google Voice--the call-management/answering-machine/Internet-dialing service that Google launched as a closed preview in March 2009, about two years after buying a service then called GrandCentral--is now open for anybody in the United States to try.
(Google's blog post originally led some to think the rest of the world could join in. Not so. Sorry, rest of the world.)
For the uninitiated, Google Voice is a free Web service that does a number of interesting things. You can get a new phone number from any of the area codes Google offers--requesting numbers spelling out a given phrase, if you wish. Then you can use that by itself to make free phone calls in the U.S. and Canada and cheap calls to elsewhere, or you can link other numbers to it and begin using Google Voice as your personal operator.
You can give the new Google Voice number to friends, then have their calls forwarded to whatever other line is most convenient--or set up rules governing whose calls get sent to which phones. You can make calls "from" that number through any other line you've associated with the account. And on mobile phones, you can have Google Voice's smart, non-irritating voicemail replace whatever last-century service your carrier offers.
Google's voicemail not only brings Gmail-style simplicity, it can also automatically transcribe messages. But when I forwarded my work line to Google Voice while now-completed newsroom renovations exiled me from my desk, these transcriptions were often unintentionally hilarious.
For instance, Google transcribed the name of Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice as "Benefits Morris" every time. I eventually suggested to her that, given the impossibility of changing Google's hive mind, it would be easier for everybody if she just changed her name instead.
On the go, Google Voice is most useful in Google's Android smartphone operating system and on Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices--thanks in part to Apple rejecting Google's iPhone application and some third-party Google Voice programs. (On the iPhone and Palm's Pre and Pixi, you can use a Web-based version of the service that leaves out some features.)
Privacy worries and funny transcriptions notwithstanding, though, most Google Voice users seem quite pleased with the service. Have you tried it? What's your opinion?
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