What Is Google Voice?

Learn what Google Voice phone service can do for you

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Google Voice is a communication service that stands out from the rest in many respects. First, it is from Google, second it is (mostly) free, and third, it rings multiple phones, and then there are plenty of other features that are interesting and useful for many. Many, but not all. It costs nothing to sign up and get started, but before putting all your eggs in Google’s basket, you want to know why do it, and whether it is good for you. So let’s see what Google Voice can do for you.

You Get Free Service

It costs nothing to sign up for a Google Voice account, and to use it. The phone number, the text service and other features, as we see below, are free. You pay only for the international calls you make, but calls to most phone numbers in the US and Canada are free. There are some numbers you may have to pay to call, starting at a rate of about $0.01 per minute. The rates for those cities, and international rates may vary, but you can find out exactly what it will cost you to make a call using the Google Voice: Calling Rates tool.

One Number Rings All Your Phones

When you sign up, you get one free phone number. You can decide which one of your phones rings, or does not ring, whenever anyone calls that number. For example, when your daughter calls, you want all your phones to ring, but when your business partner or boss calls, you want only the office phone to ring. Too bad if you are not there. What if that annoying marketing agent rings? Maybe you’ll want to have none of your phones ring.

But before getting to ring the phones you like, you just have a number, which can be something quite interesting and useful in itself. You can choose the area code and some other specific characteristics of the number you will be allotted. That number isn’t attached to a SIM card on a mobile phone or a line, it remains yours whether you change your mobile carrier, you move to another state, or you change your phone.

Some people use their free Google Voice number as a mask to protect the privacy of their real number when it comes to giving a number to a group of people or the public. Calls to the Google Voice number will then be forwarded to your real number on the phone you like.

If you are interested in having a free phone number, you can check these other services. There are also a few of other services that give numbers for ringing multiple phones, check them.

You Can Port Your Number

This means that you can use your existing number and transfer it to your new Google Voice account. This service is not free, but it will be worth paying for those who don’t want to notify all their contacts about a new number, or if their numbers are already displayed in public. It costs a one-time fee of $20. Your existing number, which is handled currently by your carrier, will be handed over to Google, and you will have to get a new number from your carrier. There are a number of issues relating to number porting, like you might want to know first whether your number is portable.

You can also change your Google-given number to a new one, for $10.

Make Free Local Calls

Most calls are free within the US and Canada, and you can call for free unlimited to any phone, be it landline or mobile, not just VoIP numbers. The exception is that there are some numbers in the US or Canada that you have to pay to call. Google does not appear to have a list of the places within the US that are not free, however, they do provide the Calling Rates Tool linked above if you want to check a number before you place a call. 

Make Cheap International Calls

You can make calls through your web interface or smartphone using Google Hangouts, however, International calls are not free. But the rates are very reasonable to some common destinations. Some are even as low as two cents per minute. You pay by depositing prepaid credit to your account.


Whenever you don’t take a call, the caller can leave a voicemail, which goes directly to your mailbox. You can retrieve it anytime you wish. This allows you to choose whether to take a call or not, and gives you the freedom to not take calls, knowing there is a way for the caller to leave a message.

There is another feature that comes handy here – the call screening feature. When someone calls, you are given options to either answer the call or send the caller to voicemail. While they are through with the voicemail, you can change your mind and answer.

Voicemail Transcription

This feature is taken as a flagship for Google Voice, maybe because it is so rare. It converts your voicemail (which is in voice) into text, so you can read the message in your mail box. This helps when you need to get the messages in silence, and also when you have to search for a message. Voice to text has never been perfect, even after decades, but it has improved. So Google voicemail transcription is not perfect and can be quite funny at times while annoying at others, but at least it is fun to have if it sometimes doesn’t help.

Share Your Voicemail

It’s like forwarding a text messages or an email, but in voice. This is not multimedia messaging, but simple sharing of a voicemail message to another Google Voice user.

Personalize Your Greetings

You can choose which voice message to leave to which caller. Google offers a lot of settings and options for this, so the tool is quite powerful.

Block Unwanted Callers

Call blocking is a feature in most VoIP services. In your Google web interface, you can set a caller to the blocked state. Whenever they call, Google Voice will lie to them after the dramatic call-not-established beep saying your account is no longer in service or has been disconnected.

Send SMS on Your Computer

You can configure your Google Voice account such that SMS messages to you are sent to your Gmail inbox as an email message, besides being sent to your phone. You can then reply to that email messages which will be converted back to an SMS and sent to your correspondent. This is a free service.

Make Conference Call

You can hold meetings with more than two participants on Google Voice. You can do so using your smartphones as well.

Record Your Calls

You can record any of your Google Voice calls by just pressing the number 4 button during the call. This recorded file will be stored online and you can download it from your Google web interface. Call recording is not always simple and sometimes requires additional hardware, software or settings.

The way Google Voice makes it easy, either for activating it or for storage, is really interesting.