Finally, anyone can port their mobile phone number to Google Voice. I’ve been doing so for the past six months. Thinking about making the jump? Here’s my experience, which is largely good. Plus, some thoughts on how this gives Android an added boost ahead of Verizon’s iPhone launch.
I moved my cell phone number to Google Voice back in August. Similar to Mike Arrington, this was something special Google did for me, so that I could test out the service ahead of the public launch.
Google Voice & Your Virtual Phone Number
Google Voice gives you a virtual number that’s not locked to any device. If you port your number to Google Voice, you’re still going to need an actual phone to point the number at (unless you bravely decide to take calls only through the web-based version of Google Voice).
The phone you point at is going to have its own telephone number. If you place a call using that phone without going through Google Voice, then your “real” number will be revealed.
For example, take this scenario:
You’re on AT&T with an iPhone, with the number (555) 555-1212 that all your friends, family, coworkers and others know. You port that number to Google Voice. You even cancel your AT&T service when doing this (this will probably happen as part of the porting process — when I did this with AT&T, I had to open a new line rather than having my existing account get assigned a new telephone number, which was crazy).
You purchase a new phone line, let’s say a new iPhone with Verizon. Verizon assigns a number to that phone, let’s say (555) 555-1213. You point your Google Voice number at your Verizon number.
Getting “Inbound Calls” On One Or More Phones
Now if anyone calls your Google Voice number (as many will, since it was your original number), the call is automatically forwarded to your Verizon phone, like this:
(555) 555-1212 > (555) 555-1213
If you have multiple phones, that same Google Voice number can ring any of them, like this:
(555) 555-1212 > (555) 555-1213
(555) 555-1212 > (555) 555-1214
(555) 555-1212 > (555) 555-1215
It’s easy to add or drop phones using the settings features in Google Voice. At one point, when I had three different Android test phones as well as my iPhone, a call to my Google Voice number would make them all ring, if I had them all switched on.
Making “Outbound Calls”
Calling out is an entirely different situation. You don’t have to think about inbound calls, once you’ve set things up. All your phones will get calls from your virtual number. But if you want to make calls as if they are from that virtual number, you need the Google Voice software. And the experience is also much easier on Android.
If you don’t use the software, then the reverse of the above will happen. When you call out, then your “real” number will be shown. That’s a problem if someone saves your number and tries to call you back later, if you’ve changed phones for some reason. Your real number doesn’t forward to your Google Voice number.
On Android, Painless; On the iPhone, More Work
If you have an Android phone, Google Voice is closely tied into the operating system. I can’t recall if the app is already installed or not. If not, it’s easily downloaded.
Once installed on Android, you can configure things so that your phone’s native dialer will automatically put all calls through Google Voice. You can also ask to be prompted each time you make a call, if for some reason you prefer to place a call that shows your “real” number.
By native dialer, I mean using your phone’s natural keypad. On Android, with Google Voice, you don’t have to fire up the Google Voice app to make a call or do anything special. Calls go out through Google Voice, with your Google Voice number, effortlessly.
With the iPhone, you can’t use your phone’s native dialer. All calls have to be placed from within the Google Voice iPhone app (the dialer is shown over there on the right).
I often find this means 15 seconds or more of delay until the app fully loads, which is a pain. It also means that if you’re using things like voice dialing or calling from a car’s Bluetooth phone integration, your call will go through on your real number, not your Google Voice number.
Texting & Google Voice
Google Voice will also route texts to one or more of your phones. I’ve found this sort of hit and miss. I’ll always get my text messages. But sometimes, they come in very delayed.
The chief cause seems to be that when I’m on Android phones, I have background data disabled. With that off, Google Voice isn’t constantly checking in to see if I’ve gotten a new text message. It only seems to check if I manually fire up the Google Voice application — and I’m always forgetting to do that. See, it’s my fault!
On the iPhone, I get my text messages when they’re sent. That’s because unlike Android, the iPhone allows me to set background notifications on a per app basis (I’m pretty sure with Android, it’s sadly all or nothing). So, I can have Google Voice stay on, checking for text messages on a regular basis, and not have other apps draining my battery.
Sadly, while Android integrates Google Voice into the dialer, it doesn’t appear to have done the same for the native text messaging software on phones. That means you have to send text messages using Google Voice, if you don’t want them to come from your real number. The same is true for the iPhone.
By the way, get used to being texted twice for any message. Any inbound text will go both to your Google Voice app on the phone and to the phone’s native app. That’s why it’s so easy to accidentally respond using your phone’s native text messaging app — which can puzzle someone on the other end, if they don’t know your “real” number. Despite getting two copies, however, only a single message will be counted towards your bill or text message allowance.
Postscript: As comments point out below, the double texting is my own fault — there’s a setting that would cause text messages to go only through the Google Voice system (with the added advantage of not counting against your text allowance at all).
Voicemail & Call Quality
Google Voice’s own voicemail can be used instead of your phone’s voicemail. The advantage to that is Google Voice will transcribe the voicemail and send you an email of the transcription, which can be a real time saver. Plus, it can make for a fun laugh when the transcriptions go wrong, as I find they often do. You can usually read enough to figure out what the message means, though.
Call quality is hard to measure. Occasionally, I’ve had bad calls. Rarely can I tell if this is due to using the Google Voice network or an issue with Verizon or AT&T. For the most part, it’s a non-issue.
Receiving & Placing Calls
As for getting calls themselves, that’s worked extremely well. If someone calls me, the call seems to go through without any delays or problems.
Placing calls also generally works well, though a few times, I’ve been unable to use Google Voice when I’ve had a poor data connection. Typically, this has been with the iPhone, if I recall correctly. It lacks any native integration of Google Voice — so if the app can’t get a data signal, you can’t use it. With Android, calling out hasn’t needed a good data feed (indeed, with Verizon, a call would block any data signal at all).
Best Feature: Freedom!
My move to Google Voice as my main number hasn’t been painless, but it has been very positive. Most important, I control my number now. Freedom! Port your number, and you can point it anywhere you like. It’s hard not to love that.
Indeed, it feels like the way things should have always worked. It’s also comes at a convenient time. Just when literally millions of people will be debating whether to jump from Android to the iPhone on Verizon, Google rolls out a way to get in on the action.
Google Voice, when a number is ported, makes Android especially more compelling. As with Android’s built-in GPS, it’s an edge that the iPhone lacks — and which may cause some would-be iPhone jumper to sit tight. See my past article, A Tale Of Three Android Phones: Droid 2, Samsung Fascinate & Google Nexus S, for some more thoughts on that GPS edge.
Why’d it take so long? Last year, I ripped into Google for the delay in porting. At that time, Google said the porting wasn’t easy enough yet. Indeed, as it allowed me into the test program, I found porting was a two week long complicated process, exactly as Google warned me it would be.
I still find it an odd coincidence that porting has finally arrived right when Android needed a little bump — and right when Verizon is suddenly pals with Apple after being so cozy with Google and Android. But there’s no doubt porting as I encountered last year wouldn’t have worked for most consumers. Google tells me the process is much more streamlined now and says should take only 24 hours. Here’s hoping that proves true.