Is Google Voice Sweet?

I was lucky enough to get in to the Google Voice beta a few weeks ago and have been playing around with it on an Android powered phone since then. I thought I’d share my initial thoughts on the service.

The Backend:

Everything certainly works, however there’s noticeable unreliability. Calls for example have a bad habit of inexplicably failing to connect. For the first week this unreliability, coupled with the fact that switching whether or not outbound calls were placed through Google Voice was hidden beneath 3 layers of menus, meant that I just didn’t place any calls using the service. At this point that UI problem has been fixed but outbound calling still falls flat quite frequently. The SMS functionality has thus far proven more reliable having only faltered once (that I’ve noticed) when it delivered a text (inbound) around 20 minutes late.

Inbound calls show up in caller ID with the true phone number, and use the phone service, not the data service. Texts on the other hand are forwarded to the phone as messages from random numbers in Montana (406), with the contact’s name appended to the front. These random numbers can be responded to directly. These numbers also appear to be persistent, that is people always have the same Montana number when they text me. Finally if someone else using Google Voice texts you the text will come from their Google Voice number. Texts are also delivered via data plan and pop up in the app’s inbox which is pretty nice because it means redundancy.

The Frontend:

There are really two frontends the online interface and the Android app. The online interface is really just GMail, which is to say it’s very polished and usable. It’s clearly only a matter of time until GMail’s “conversation” is extended to include phone calls and texts as well as emails and chats. The Android app is another story all together. As mentioned before, in the beginning the process of toggling whether or not calls where placed through Google Voice was needlessly painful, this has since been fixed with a little hack that prompts you before each call (you can also still set a default) which really makes the service a lot more usable. In the future hopefully it’ll be smart enough to just use whichever one works. Other than that the interface gets the job done but is by no means polished. The messaging interface is right now strictly inferior to the native Messaging app, which leaves me a bit torn about which one to use each time I want to send a text. The Google Voice is inferior but is also free. It feels like I’m splurging when I use the nice interface.


One thing I’d really like them to fix is the darned Montana numbers and I don’t think it’d be too hard to do it either. Right now threads in the native Messaging app just pull the number the texts are from, look through my contacts for a match and if they find one, that name appears instead of the number. Of course the Montana numbers aren’t my contacts actual numbers so I don’t have them. However since my phone’s contacts are synced with my Google contacts, and the number’s are persistant, why don’t they just add that number into the contact information for me. It’s not sexy, and wouldn’t extend to Blackberries or iPhones, but can’t imagine it would take that long to implement either.

Final Thoughts:

Considering the service is still in beta it’s really quite solid. However they really need to have an absolutely screaming backend for the service to work. Telephony and SMS are what I’ve come to think of as the instantanous forms of communication and I seriously doubt people are going to be willing to adopt the service if it means even the slightest slowdown. By and large the app problems are fairly minor and will probably start dissappearing rapidly. Finally, Google recently offered users free business cards (25 of ‘em) from iPrint to show off their shiny new Google Voice phone numbers, a charmingly classy advertisement.

Tags: , , , , , , ,


  1. I’ve also had google voice for the past couple of weeks. As for the montana numbers, I disabled receiving texts on my phone as actual SMS and only receive them via data using the google voice app. There really isn’t much noticeable delay (and I’m using an ADP1 on AT&T so I only get EDGE, not 3G) -and- I don’t have the montana number problem. Also, there is a shortcut packed in with the google voice app you can add to one of your android desktops that when clicked will toggle between “Ask on each call”, “Use google voice for all calls”, “Use google voice for international calls only”, and “Don’t use google voice for calls”

  2. I only noticed the delay once, and it wasn’t in the forwarding the even the timestamps of the message in the inbox were delayed. I only knew it had been delayed because the sender had left with out me :( . Explain this shortcut to me more I can’t seem to figure it out.

  3. Hit menu on your home screen, then click the “Add” button, Click “Shortcut”, and there should be a “Toggle Google Voice” shortcut in the list you can add to the home screen.

  4. I just got this up and running and have been hesitant to use it too much, due to the same reasons you’ve listed.

    Phone and SMS should be much more reliable then “email” — so to put them in the hands of a beta application is a bit scary.