What Is Google Voice and How Does It Work?

Last updated: September 1, 2017 - 12:04pm EDT

Google Voice service

If you think about it, communicating by phone can be a chaotic ordeal, especially in a society where you're often expected to be available to your connections 24/7. Do people who need to get in touch with you know what number to call when you're in different places? Where was that important voicemail that you needed to remember: on your mobile phone, or on your home answering machine? Will you have to somehow reach everyone you know and tell them that you have a new phone number if you move to a new home or switch telecom carriers?

Enter Google Voice, which solves all of these dilemmas by consolidating all of your phone functions in one place that you can access from almost anywhere.

So what is Google Voice? What does it do?

Google Voice is an all-in-one personal phone centre. With it, you can send and receive calls and text messages to your contacts and other numbers. You can also store and review text messages and voicemails, reroute calls to any of your phones, send voicemails from your phones to Google Voice, and more!

How Google Voice works: 4 reasons why you should use it

1. Get a permanent American phone number... for free!

Everyone who signs up for a Google Voice account gets a free U.S. phone number from Google Voice. With it, you can keep your work and home life separate, or be reachable wherever anyone needs you. It all depends on how you set up other numbers you link to your account.

Search for available Google Voice numbers

2. Control your call flow.

Google Voice is like your own personal call centre, in that it has many ways to manage when and where you get communications through it. You choose which of your phones ring when someone calls or texts your Google Voice number. You choose whether your phones use their default voicemail systems, or send voicemails straight to Google Voice. You choose what greetings people get when their calls go to your Google Voice voicemail. You can even throw "Do Not Disturb" mode on and keep all of your texts and voicemails in Google Voice until you're free to review them!

Google Voice Do Not Disturb feature

3. Keep your text messages and voicemails organized and all in one spot.

Forget trying to remember which answering machine that important voicemail was left on, or where that informative text message went. Google Voice saves a record of all text messages and voicemails sent to your number, and even lets you set your other phones to send their voicemails directly to Google Voice! Once there, they all go into searchable histories sorted by time and participant. Read them, listen to them, continue the conversation, block a number, delete a message – all from any device!

Google Voice Voicemail

4. Use powerful calling and texting features at little to no cost.

Google Voice isn't just for incoming communications! You can use your Google Voice number to call or text virtually anyone in the U.S. or Canada for free, either through your mobile phone plan or through your Internet plan via Google Hangouts! Plus, you get a bunch of handy inbound call functions included with Google Voice. Want to record a phone call? Switch which phone you're having the call on? Start a conference call with multiple callers? With Google Voice, you can do all that and more!

Making a call with Google Voice

Is Google Voice free?

You don't need to pay to set up a Google Voice account, or even get a Google Voice number. On top of that, most calls and texts sent within the U.S. and Canada through Google Voice are free! Some actions, such as making international calls or changing your Google Voice number, will cost you money, though.

For full explanations of costs that you should consider when using Google Voice, see our next tutorial.

The history of Google Voice and why it's popular

Google Voice began its life as a similar service known as GrandCentral, created in 2005 by Craig Walker and Vincent Paquet. In July of 2007, Google bought out Walker and Paquet's company for over $95 million U.S., and then began re-tooling the application in secret for two years. In March of 2009, GrandCentral was re-launched as Google Voice, and in June of 2010, the service became accessible to all U.S. citizens.

What makes Google Voice popular is the same thing that made its predecessor, GrandCentral, attractive: its "one number to rule them all" concept. If you have a permanent phone number with Google Voice, people who need to get in touch with you don't need to remember a bunch of different numbers to reach you at home, at work, on your mobile device, or anywhere else. They also don't even need to worry about your number changing if you move or switch telecom carriers! They just need to contact your Google Voice number, and you can manage your communications wherever you happen to be at the time.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Google Voice?

Pros

  • It gives you a lot of functionality for free. While many similar services charge money to do things like register a private phone number, transcribe voicemails, or even use them at all, Google Voice does not.
  • It puts all of your phone functions in a spot that you can get to from almost anywhere. So whether you're at home on your desktop/laptop computer or out and about on your mobile phone or a public computer, your Google Voice phone hub is accessible to you.
  • Having a single number to receive all of your phone communications at can help you better manage them on your other phones. For example, you can choose which of your phones ring when someone calls your Google Voice number, based on when and where you're available. Or, you can temporarily block Google Voice from forwarding communications to all of your other phones, if you're not going to be available and would rather check your messages later.

Cons

  • Most of its features can only be used by people who have registered United States phone numbers, as opposed to services like Skype that can be used internationally.
  • It mostly works off your current telecom plan, so while the service itself is "free," you'll still usually be using minutes and data from your existing phones. In contrast, many competing services usually include their own additional call and text plans, or else use VoIP to place calls and use up your Internet data in place of your phone data.
  • Weak multi-participant communication capabilities.
  • Lack of emergency call functions.

Who does Google Voice compete against?

Most of Google Voice's popular competitors are Internet-based call management systems for businesses, such as Grasshopper, Telzio, Voiceably, and Phonebooth. These contain additional features such as number extensions for different people or departments, fax-to-email capability, audio/video conferencing tools, and so on. However, almost all of them require you to pay a monthly or annual subscription fee, which Google Voice doesn't.

Google Voice also has a few rivals when it comes to personal call management systems. Quite possibly the most famous one is, as we mentioned, Microsoft's Skype. It can be used pretty much anywhere in the world (not just the U.S.), and can exchange computer files, text messages, phone calls, and even video chats for free – provided the person you're trying to reach is using Skype, too. You can also use it for calling regular phones, but that usually costs money, and you have to pay for your private number (unlike Google Voice's free one).

For a more in-depth look at services like Google Voice, along with their pros and cons, be sure to check out our top 8 list here.

 

That's a quick introduction to what Google Voice is and what it does. In the rest of this course, we'll explain how to use the many features of Google Voice. These include claiming your very own Google Voice phone number; sending and receiving calls, texts, and voicemails; blocking people you don't want to hear from; customizing your voicemail greetings; and even setting your other phones up to forward their voicemails right to Google Voice! We'll even include directions for how to shut down your Google Voice account and find the right alternative if it doesn't work out for you.

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More Google Voice Tutorials

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