I’ve been wanting to replace Skype with something else, so I thought I would dust off my old GrandCentral / Google Voice account. I couldn’t get it to work at first and shelved it. In the meantime, I posted the number online and only recently received a few calls, which I promptly missed.
Skype, despite its bloated user interface, works fairly well out of the box once you figure it out. The paradigm is familiar: click a name to call, or find the latest hiding place for the “call phones” keypad. Google Voice, however, is a bit different.
First of all, there are actually three voice-enabled products. Google Voice is the one that handles the telephone call connections. Google Talk is a voice enhancement of Google Chat, an instant messager (IM) client that runs like a normal desktop application. Finally, Gmail has the ability to send and receive calls, in addition to serving as your browser-based email client.
Google Voice works with GMail to place calls. Instead of connecting from your computer to the phone number, Google Voice is like a switchboard operator that sets you up with a two-person conference call. You initiate your call to a number with Google Voice using the Google Voice web page, and then Google Voice calls YOU back to make the connection. Once you answer the phone, Google Voice then calls the phone number you’re trying to reach.
To make a call from your computer, then, you need the ability to answer the incoming call. Google Voice allows you to designate “Google Talk” running on your computer as the “phone” it will call. You may have it installed as a desktop client, as it works as a messenger client. However, Google Talk does not answer calls if you have Google Voice open on your computer. However, if you also have GMail open, you will get a ringer alert there. Once you answer the Google Voice call with GMail, you are connected and the other phone number is dialed, and things proceed rather well from there.
It’s very weird and convoluted. It may be that Google isn’t interested in creating and easy point-to-point calling solution that works completely on a computer like Skype, but it may also be typical Google disorganization with regards to their family of overlapping solutions, additionally hamstrung by the lack of concise, well-curated documentation.
In summary, to set up you need to:
- Signup for Google Voice with your Google account
- Set up Google Talk account, if you don’t already have one
- Register Google Talk as a Phone in Google Voice
- You may have to make an outgoing call first in GMail to activate the calling feature
- You may have to add credit for dialing numbers outside the United States/Canada
Then, to make a call:
- Open Google Voice in a browser window
- Open GMail in a separate browser window
- Use Google Voice to place the call to a phone number
- Use GMail to answer the Google Voice connection, which will then proceed to call the phone number
To receive a call:
- Google Voice will attempt to ring all your devices registered to it, and it will do so all at the same time
- If Gmail is not open in a browser window, I presume that the Google Talk IM client will pick up, but I’ll have to test that.
Although this is a lot of hoops to jump through, the Google Voice product is technically pretty good. Call quality is good for me, and the voice mailbox and transcription services are cool. It’s nice to get an email when you get a voice message.