Google Voicemail Review

10 Nov

I was one of the first users signed up for Google Voice. Google voice was generating buzz as the newest player in the very tight telephony market. It can manage multiple phone numbers, multiple voicemails, and offers lots of enhanced features including voicemail transcription, call recording, call screening and free SMS.

Signing up gave me a new phone number. After having the same phone number for over 8 years, switching my number from carrier to carrier as I graduated from college and moved, now Google expected me to give it up and use their randomly generated number. At that point I decided that while interesting, the features of Google Voice just didn’t warrant a phone number switch for me and I abandoned my Google Voice account.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when Google announced that their Voice service will now work with your existing phone number. The functionality is different depending on whether you use your own phone number or theirs. If you use your own the advertised features are:

Google voicemail: voicemail like email
Voicemail transcription: read what your voicemail says
Custom greetings: vary voicemail greetings by caller
International calling: low cost calls to the world
Notifications: read voicemail messages via email or SMS
Share voicemails: forward, embed, or download voicemails

So I registered my 8 year old number and quickly set up the service on my iPhone. I was most excited for the Voicemail transcription and custom greetings. I could greet my coworkers clients with a professional “Sorry I am unavailable to take your call..” and my friends with something more appropriate, and if I missed anyone’s call I would get a text message letting my screen my voicemails.

I have been looking for this type of functionality for some time now and even tried similar services before, with little success. Given Google’s track record I had high hopes. While I am aware that the Google Voice app had been rejected, with over 50% of Smart phone traffic being iPhones, I thought that the experience would have been much better.

In all actuality, I’m not sure if the phone-support is the problem. My Voice account was easily able to import all of my phone contacts, and I receive the SMS transcriptions fine. The problem is that the transcription service is so bad, that it forces me to listen to every voicemail to comprehend what is being communicate.


Random, nonsense transcription of a voicemail I received.

What I liked about the regular iPhone voicemail was that it downloaded the messages and I could listen to them anytime. If I received a voicemail while I was in the gym, I could see the ‘new voicemail’ notification and listen to them from anywhere (like underground in a subway on my way home).

The Google Voice behaves in a similar way. Depending on how you have your preferences setup, a SMS or email transcription will be sent to you whenever someone leaves you a message. The frustrating part is that this transcription is mostly nonsense and does nothing more than serve as a notification that you received a new message. It then has a link that that you may click on to hear the original. The bad part here is that to listen to the message you have to connect, download and then play and audio file from Google’s server. Not the quickest or easiest thing to do on AT&T notoriously spotty 3G network. The first time I tried this, my phone could not even recognize the audio format of the message.

The custom voicemail message works great, and I haven’t really attempted to try any of the other features like international calling. Really, I am using Google Voice to enhance my voicemail experience, and thus far it’s only adding an extra step (or more) before I can listen to my message. I’m aware that voice to text transcription is not an easy thing to do, and I have confidence that Google will eventually get it right.

But, until then, I’m going back to standard iPhone voicemail and clients and drinking buddies alike will both be getting the same away message.

6 Responses to “Google Voicemail Review”

  1. Lee Dorfman 12. Nov, 2009 at 2:19 am #

    You might want to try Youmail or Quicktate. Youmail offers many of the same features as google voice and then some. Quicktate does most of their voicemail transcription and it is extremely accurate.

  2. victor brunetti 14. Nov, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    We’re all Victims Johnny.

  3. Johnnyjuice 25. Nov, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    I have tried Youmail before, before they released their iPhone app. I haven’t tried their transcription service because you have to pay for subscriptions while Google Voice is free.

  4. GregB 13. Aug, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    The ONLY good thing about Google Voice is its price (free). Everything else is a disappointment. I used the “Webley” (now called “CommuniKate”) for years and loved its rich feature set: complex routing rules based upon incoming phone number or prefix, easy & accurate voice command recognition, easy navigation, no restrictions on number of accounts having same cell or landline numbers registered to them, integrated fax service, excellent text to voice mail reader, easy conference calling, support of group numbers, easy on-the-fly call forwarding or “follow me” based upon caller ID, dedicated 800 inbound number, etc, etc, etc. Only problem was cost: 10cents/min on every call.

    Google has been a HUGE disappointment (as are most of Google’s offerings outside of Search). At the forefront of my complaints: no voice recognition, so each time a call comes in and I’m in my car connected with Bluetooth, I have to fish in my pocket for my phone to use the number pad instead of being able to speak “one” or “two” to route calls. Also, the inability to register a moble number with more than one account or the ability to register a home number with more than two Google Voice accounts (I have a family with 4 members and a single home landline to share). What was Google thinking?

    I’ll probably drop Google Voice soon and go back to a paid service that is feature-rich enough to be useful.

  5. Johnnyjuice 18. Aug, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    Greg, I agree.

    Until Google can get a feature set that is comparable to other services I can’t see it taking off. It seems that Google is just launching a lot of trial & error services (Voice, Buzz, Wave) and seeing what sticks.

    I think that this approach to new services leaves a lot to be desired. Too many of their new services dont live up to their advertisements & expectations.

  6. whyJoe 10. Jun, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Fast-forward 6 months and Google Voice hasn’t introduced a single new feature. The web interface is still so bad that you can’t even mark all messages as read. Seriously. I am wondering if Voice is just a way for Google to get free data for voice recognition and/or marketing, the way they used 1-800-GOOG-411 (now discontinued.)

    It’s a wonder the features haven’t been upgraded and Google Voice well-integrated into Android phones, as this could be a major diferentiation point.

    I still use Google Voice because of the price: free. But I can’t wait to jump ship the moment my phone platform gets integrated visual voicemail.

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