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My experience with Google Voice Android App

With all the publicity about Apple rejecting Google Voice iPhone app I just had to install it on my HTC G1 to check what the noise is all about. First of all to use the app you need to have a Google Voice account. It is offered by invitation only and to get it you need to fill out this form and wait for an invite code to show up in your email box in a few days. You are more lucky if you have a GrandCentral account. Since the company is now owned by Google you can convert your account to Google Voice and this way get access to the app. The upgrade took me just a few moments and it kept my old contacts and call settings.

upgrade to Google Voice

The new service has all the cool features that GrandCentral had plus more: voice mail transcripts, conference calling and SMS support. No one sends me SMS messages and I am yet to try conference calling but I find voice mail transcripts a great time saver. Here is how a typical voice mail transcript looks. The only bits that have errors are the last name and the phone number (it somehow got an extra digit which should not be there).

voice mail transcript sample

The release of Google Voice Android app has made the service even more useful since now I can not only receive calls to my Google Voice number but also make them and the receiving part will see my GV number despite the fact that I call from my cell phone which has a different native number.

The app nicely integrates with the Android contact book and you can configure it to intercept all calls, only international calls, or prompt on each call you make. So far I have configured it for international calls since the rates are much lower than what t-Mobile offers but I will be glad to go all the way with the first option if/when Google offers to port my cell number to Google Voice. Too many people have it and it will be too much of a hassle to migrate.

Android Google Voice Settings

Meantime I can still use the GV number as a temporary number I want to give to the businesses and people whose calls I want to screen. E.g. I am going to give it to the car dealers when I go shopping for a new car to replace my Accord which later this year will have 160K miles on the odometer.

By the way, I find GV international calling rates very competitive. Canada is free, Ukraine is 10 cents and Russia is 5 cents (these are the 3 countries I call the most). JustVOIP is still cheaper but it is hard to compete with the Google Voice convenience so most likely I will use it when I have to call on the go (which previously was a big hassle since I had to dial all those access codes).

Do you use Google Voice? Is it running on your phone? Please share what you like/dislike about it in the comments

t-Mobile + GrandCentral = unlimited free calls

I won’t claim I invented this hack. It has been discussed a couple of times on bargain forums but I believe it is not getting the attention it deserves.

My cell phone has long become my primary way of communication and while I do believe we are slowly getting to the point when a phone will become just a VoIP platform and wireless providers will just sell data service so we all can enjoy unlimited voice calls and mobile internet (think WiMax), I also think we are far from being there and this hack brings me one step closer to this goal. Let’s see what combining GrandCentral and t-Mobile in order to get unlimited calls from/to your cell phone is really worth.

How does it work?

First ingredient you need is myFaves which is a t-Mobile feature that allows you to add up to 5 numbers to your “myFaves” list and make free unlimited calls to/from these numbers. If you don’t already have it, it costs extra $10 a month to enable it with your regular service. Alltel has a similar thing called “My Circle” and I believe it is free with any plan over $59.99

Second ingredient is GrandCentral, a service owned by Google which gives you a free local phone number to use as a relay to the other numbers you have. It is a very useful service on its own (I blogged about it last year) but for the purpose of implementing this hack you really only need a subset of the functionality it provides.

Steps to implement the hack

Inbound calling

  1. Sign up for an account at GrandCentral. You will need an invitation for that. I have several that I can give to the first people who reply to this post.
  2. Add the phone number you get from GrandCentral to your myFaves list (or My Circle if you use Alltel).
  3. Configure GrandCentral to redirect all calls to your cell phone number.
  4. Change GrandCentral Caller ID settings to “Display my GrandCentral number”. Now every time you get a call to your GrandCentral number it will be treated by t-Mobile as if you received a call from GrandCentral and counted against the pull of unlimited myFaves minutes.

Outbound calling

There are really two ways you can implement unlimited outbound calling. First is to ask your friends call your GrandCentral number and leave a short message. Once you have them all, you can listen to them by calling your GrandCentral number. One of the options GrandCentral offers as you are listening to a message is to return the call. So when you want to call one of your friends, simply call your GrandCentral number, skip to your friend’s voice mail message and then select “Return the call” option from the phone keypad.

This will work well if you have relatively few friends and becomes really inconvenient if the list of your friends grows.

The alternative way is to use Yak4Ever which is a free service (read about it here) that lets you register up to 10 numbers and call them for free. If this is the way you want to go then you will have to add Yak4Ever number to your myFaves list as well.

I have not had much experience with Yak4Ever but it did seem to have worked the last time I used them and the voice quality was decent.

Update: Just as I wrote this, Yak4ever shut down the service, but you can still use GrandCentral for your free outbound calls as described above.

What are the benefits & drawbacks?

The main benefit is that you can have unlimited calls to and from your cell phone, something that is easily worth over $100 a month. The benefit however comes at a cost. First, you will have to ask everyone to use your new phone number (the one you obtain from GrandCentral). Second, you lose Caller ID functionality. GrandCentral will announce to you who is calling but I find it less convenient than seeing the person’s name and photo (yeah, I have a picture assigned to each of my friends).

For outgoing calls the inconvenience is in the extra steps you need to make to setup the call by either returning the voice message or by dialing Yak4Ever number and selecting the appropriate entry from your list of registered numbers.

Conclusion

So is it worth the hassle or not? For me it is. I still can assign 4 of my remaining myFaves numbers to my close friends and family, but I did reserve one for GrandCentral. I plan to use it with certain people who I don’t call very often but when I do my conversations tend to take a while. Think about your far-away relatives or anyone else who you sync up with on a periodic basis.

Tell me what you think about it. Are you planning to use this hack or is it just a waste of time? One thing I keep wondering about is how long is it before Google plugs this back door. Or will it?

Source: discussions at FatWallet and SlickDeals forums

Random productivity related news

I might be out of the country but I am not away from the news. Here is a roundup of what caught my eye over the past week.

Craigsnumber changes domain name to Numbr.com

Graigsnumber, a free service offering users temporary phone numbers in the US, has added features and renamed itself to Numbr. The company is one of several offering voice related productivity services I reviewed in the past. They are in direct competition with PrivatePhone, a free service by NetZero.

Twenty money saving Firefox extensions

One reason to use Firefox over InternetExplorer is the huge number of plugins that enhances the browser functionality. SavingAdvice has compiled a list of 20 plugins for Firefox that will help you save money. I specifically like the Deal Alerts group with WootWatcher, UpdateScanner, and FatCash.

Language translation tool from Google

Google Word is a new addition to the suite of tools from Google (Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of all projects that Google currently runs). The tool translates your word to several languages of your choice and lists several related sentences highlighting how the word can be used in content. If you just want to check the word usage (w/o translation), typing in Google search “define:” followed by the desired word does the trick.

Free uncensored image hosting from PirateBay

This was speculated for some time and now the service has come to life and is available to everyone. With BayImg you can host files up to 100 MByte in size. No registration is required. Another similar service is AllYouCanUpload from CNet and Divshare, a file hosting service I personally used many times.

Google to buy GrandCentral

Techcrunch spreads the word that Google is looking to acquire GrandCentral, the VoIP service I have come to like very much.

Finding your way in free telephony (Poll)

It seems like a new IP telephony company announces launch every day and it is getting harder and harder to figure out how you can use each since every one has some features that competitors don't.

I have spent some time sorting out what I know and summarized my knowledge in this blog post. I didn't mean to cover all the possible features each service offers but rather to highlight the differences. I specifically made accent to cover the free functionality. Usually you can loosen the restrictions or get additional features if you subscribe to a premium plan or pay per feature.

Skype Free PC to PC calls. Free PC to phone calls in the US until the end of 2006. Free teleconferencing for up to 5 people. Larger conference calls (Skypecasts) are also free but require prior registration via the website.
Once unlimited free PC to phone promotion is over, the only other feature that attracts me in Skype is teleconferencing (I use it for online gaming). In addition international plans from Skype (not free) is a good alternative when my regular provider is giving me hard time with voice quality. Skypecasts is something I would like to explore more but never have time.
Jajah You initiate a call from the web and then get a call back to continue the conversation via the phone. Free calls in the US and between some countries for registered members. Moble telephony is available for phones running Symbian OS or Java.
Free international calls is the most attractive functionality. Unfortunately the countries I call most often are not included. Read my detailed Jajah review here.
GrandCentral You get a local number and can register up to 3 of your phones to be dialed in a sequence when you receive a call. Unlimited inbound calling, 30 days of voice mail storage, on the fly conversation recording. In addition you get custom greetings and distinct rings but I never used them.
Typical usage: If I have a project that requires giving out a support number, I will get it from GrandCentral and register my and my partners' phones with it. This way if we get a call there will always be someone to answer.
PrivatePhone by NetZero You get a local number and a storage for up to 10,000 voice messages (500 per day limit). You can check your messages online or play them out via an embedded widget on your blog or website.
It is hard to find a good usage for this one since all the number does is it forwards the caller to your voice mail. Might use it for my eBay or CraigsList auctions to add credibility to my listings and provide a way to communicate with me for those who hate doing it online.
Jaxtr Currently in private beta and not publicly available. Reportedly will allow to embed a widget into your blog or website to allow everyone call you without knowing your real number.
I plan to use it at my blog as soon as the service becomes available. The idea of having people call me while reading my blog sounds appealing. If it doesn't work out that well -- I can always take down the widget. ;-)

In addition I use GoogleTalk for occasional PC to PC calls however Skype has really taken the place lately thanks to the conference calling feature which GoogleTalk doesn't have.

If you use these or other services and know more free telephony tips -- I would love to hear from you. Also make sure to take this poll.




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