Where Has Google Voice Gone?

Category: Telephony

Google Voice isn’t going away, as some headlines suggest. Instead, it’s going everywhere. If you're not up to speed on this nifty service that lets you make free phone calls, read on...

Google Voice Gets Some Love

Google is finally devoting some development resources to its Google Voice service. That’s good news for the many Google Voice fans who have struggled to get it working. It still doesn’t work reliably or intuitively, but progress is evident.

The latest changes suggest that Google Voice is being assimilated into Google Hangouts, the instant-messaging and video chat platform launched as part of Google Plus in May, 2013. You don’t need a Google Plus account to use Google Hangouts.

There are several ways to enable Google Hangouts. On a desktop or laptop computer with Internet Explorer or Firefox, you can find Hangouts via Google Plus or GMail. If you're running the Chrome browser, download the Hangouts extension. Hangouts is also available on your Android or iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod) mobile devices.
Google Voice - Hangouts

Hangouts in the Google Chrome Browser

If you choose to use Hangouts via the desktop Chrome browser extension, after installing Google Hangouts you will see a green, comic-book style “quote bubble” in the upper-right corner of the browser frame. Click on it to open the Hangouts window.

Then click on “New Hangout” (even though it doesn't look clickable). Click on the phone handset icon that appears to the right of the search box. Enter a name to search your Google Contacts, or enter a phone number to start dialing. Of course, you'll need a microphone if you want the other party to hear you.

No longer must you open Google GMail in another tab and then activate the Google Talk widget -- that’s a big improvement! But you'll still need to visit the Google Voice page to see your call history, and to configure how calls are made and/or answered.

Hangouts in Gmail

To get Google Hangouts on your GMail page, click on your profile picture in the chat section (lower-left corner). “Try the new Hangouts” will be the first option at the top of the resulting pop-up window; click it. After the page refreshes, click on the magnifying-glass icon to the right of your profile picture to open the “new Hangout” window described above.

Clicking on your profile picture or name opens a Hangouts settings menu. “Ring on incoming phone calls” to your Google Voice phone number is a good option to checkmark.

Hangouts in Google Plus

If you're already a Google Plus user, you'll find Hangouts on the right side of the Google Plus window. Click on “New Hangout” then click the phone icon to make a call. You can access the Hangouts settings menu by clicking the little grey triangle to the right of "New Hangout."

Not Ready for Prime Time?

I do love the fact that I can forward my landline to Google Voice, and instruct it to ring my cell phone on incoming calls. I can block unwanted callers with a few clicks, and Google even keeps a list of nuisance numbers that automatically get sent to a Spam folder.

And even though the text transcriptions of my voicemails are sometimes hilariously mangled, for the most part they are accurate enough to relay the gist of the message. I can always play the audio version of the voicemail message when needed.

The Google Hangouts extension seems a bit wonky. Occasionally, I get a “video call error” screen even though I am not trying to launch a video call. A second attempt to make a simple voice call works, usually. Once in a while, incoming calls are not forwarded to my cell phone.

The phone number displayed to the people you call or text is still a source of confusion for many Google Voice users. Sometimes it’s your Google Voice number; sometimes it’s your physical phone’s number; and sometimes it’s a mystery number in the 406 Area Code, somewhere in Montana.

To always display your Google Voice number to the people you call or text, you have to “integrate” Google Voice with your cellular phone service carrier. That is possible only if your cellular phone service is billed to an individual. You are out of luck if your phone service is provided by your employer, billed to your own company, or paid for by the government (military or civil service employees, and Lifeline service for the poor).

Some suspect that’s so the NSA can trace Google Voice calls and messages to the senders’ home addresses. Google says it is working on eliminating this constraint, but only for government-paid phone service accounts. That fits the NSA theory because the government would know where you live if it was paying your phone bill. I'm not sure that really explains it, though. If the NSA wants to know where I live or who I'm calling, they can just ask Edward Snowden, right?

I do find it disappointing that Google is complicating things by rolling (parts of) Google Voice into Hangouts, and giving new names to things that used to make perfect sense. When I want to place or answer a phone call, I'm not "hanging out" with a friend -- I'm making a phone call!

But alas, these are not my decision to make. And Google Voice is still free, so maybe I shouldn't complain. Are you using Google Voice, or just hanging out in cyberspace? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Where Has Google Voice Gone?"

Posted by:

31 Jul 2014

I can use Google hangouts anywhere, does the phone number feature of it work overseas?

Posted by:

31 Jul 2014

I use Google Voice to 'hang onto' a cell phone number that I don't want to lose no matter what carrier I switch to (I ported it to Google Voice for a one time fee). Call that number, and I've programmed it to ring on my current cellphone(s). And/or my LAN line. AND I can read about all of the action (calls, messages, texts, etc.) in my Gmail inbox. I've been sold on Google voice for a while, and I've yet to understand/use a lot of it (apparently ever-expanding) functionality.

I agree the transcription of messages can be hilarious. But I generally get the gist.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
31 Jul 2014

A year and a half ago I posted a long comment on your web site describing how I'd converted my telephone land line to a cell phone and thence to Google Voice, so that all calls to that number went to voice mail only. That has been working wonderfully. Every day I still get half a dozen calls to that number which contain no messages, so I just ignore them. (Once in a great while I'll google a number to verify that it's from some telemarketer.) Google Voice emails me notifications and transcripts (if any) of all calls, so it's trivial to see if there's anything important. I continue to use that Google Voice number (my "home" number) for financial institutions and other companies which want me to include a telephone number, thus avoiding having to give out my cell phone number. Still, I remain reachable through that Google Voice number, and the transcripts are usually intelligible enough that I don't have to bother listening to the voice recordings. Google Voice is simple to use, I've had no problems with it, and best of all it's still free. What's not to like?

Posted by:

31 Jul 2014

To make an outgoing (outbound) call using your own GoogleVoice (gV) phone number from the WinOS desktop, you need to install the "Hangouts Plugin" to get started. Unfortunately, I am finding out that this is quite a cumbersome process at the current time:
Particular to my case:
*This gV plug-in needs to installed under the "Administrator" log-in.
*This gV plug-in only works most reliably in my system, if I log into my GMail/gV account using the Chrome browser, as a regular "User"
*This gV plug-in fails to lauch in my system, if I am using InternetExplorer (IE) or FireFox (FF), as a regular "User" within Chrome
*The outbound gV call must be initiated by first selecting "Hangout" from the "Phone to call with" drop-down menu, as a regular "User" within Chrome
*Using the "Administrator" account, all three browsers (Chrome/IE/FF) are successful in initiating an outgoing call without any problems.
gV is one of the best FREE Google offerings ever. In theory, one can truly dump their landline phone service and there is absolutely no need for a VoIP service, such as Vonage, Ooma, magicJack or Walmart's NetTalk. Of course, a user must have network connectivity (or even a free WiFi) with a connected PC, laptop or a tablet.
One of the best features of the gV is the fact that you can SMS text directly (and FREEly) from a PC/Laptop/Tablet without a smartphone account.
I recently found out that SMS texting via a GMail account is achievable using a local email client such as the Mozilla Thunderbird w/proper setup/log-in.

Posted by:

Mike Vanover
31 Jul 2014

I have been using Google Voice for at least 5 years. Love the program. I just switched to the Google Hangouts, and will test to see how I like it.

Posted by:

Lin D
31 Jul 2014

I hope Google Voice doesn't go away! I ended up with two cellphones, both of which get regular calls. Rather than pay for duplicate service, or "family" service which is still more than one phone on one account, I transferred one number to Google Voice. I love it.

Posted by:

Stephen Earle
31 Jul 2014

As one commenter pointed out above, Voice is great for texting with your keyboard. I have no need of a smart phone, and I've never been good at texting with a traditional (and tiny) feature-phone keypad - hate it. From the Google Voice page, texting is a snap. I've recently been using it to feed baseball game updates to my daughter while she's at work. The only drawback seems to be that if she replies to a particular message, it takes a ridiculously long time to get to me, though my texts to her seem to arrive right away. Don't know if anyone else has experienced this. I just have her text my regular cell if she wants to reply.

I tried making voice calls a few years back when I first discovered it. The quality then was shaky. Maybe I'll try a business call or two and see if it's improved. For absolutely free (to the sender) SMS, it's great!

Posted by:

Frank Klett
31 Jul 2014

I have used Google Voice since it first came out and you needed an invitation to use it. I have never used it for voice but it has been a terrific way to send and receive SMS messages to someone's phone.
As you noted it is free and carries no messaging fees or other costs.
You can even transfer your number to it if you want to...small charge from Gov't. for this.

Posted by:

01 Aug 2014

@janet Google Voice number allows you to make free phone calls to the USA from anywhere. As long as the device you use has Google talk installed it will work. I have traveled to different parts of the world and if I use a PC belonging to another person, all I have to do is install Google talk and log into may account. Google does prompt if Google talk has to be installed. The phone lines are clear and good if you have a good internet.

Posted by:

04 Jan 2017

I used the original MagicJack for my part-time home business phone because I didn't want to give the Telco more $$$. MJ was cheap but not very usable. I upgraded to MJ+ when I when my business went full-time. MJ+ was much more usable than the original MJ but still had frequent call quality and outage problems. I wanted to stay with VoIP for cost savings but need reliable service with better features. I found that most of the mainstream VoIP options were too costly. I setup a Google Voice number and liked the features but didn't like needing the computer to make my call... Then I found Obi100 that for $30 one-time purchase gave me a much better and full-featured replacement for MJ+ that was powered by a free Google Voice! I ported my MJ number to GV and I get free dedicated Voice/Text and much much more... I have been using the setup for over 5 years and love it.

Posted by:

12 Apr 2017

I would like to sign up for google voice, I have been verified with google voice all that is left is to find a number. I have been unable to find a number, I have tried over and over. I wonder if they have any more numbers to assign? I know it keeps displaying that it had no numbers in the state that I live in. I am not sure how a number out of state would work as far as fees to someone to call me? Thanks

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