Google Voice and Hangouts

Google Voice is an incredibly useful and powerful IP-based phone service provided by Google and currently has well over 3.5 million users.

With Google Voice and Hangouts, you can text and call using your computer

and it will all sync with your iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet!

The best news of all…Hangouts and Google Voice native apps, plugins and extensions now enable you to call over wifi, text and call internationally for free on iPhone, Android, Mac or Windows.

Communicate Easily and for Free

I was an early adopter and have used Google Voice as my primary phone number ever since. While I traveled internationally it enabled me to communicate easily and for free with people back in the U.S.!  I honestly can’t imagine life before Google Voice.

After over five years of using it as my primary number, I have tried just about every Google Voice app for iPhone, Android, Mac and PC, every Google Voice extension for Chrome and Firefox, and every Windows program including Growl.

Here’s an easy-to-understand guide on how to use the native Google Voice and Hangout apps to do everything you want.

Here’s a screenshot of the web interface, including unlimited searchable texting, call history and automatically transcribed voicemails that you can listen to or forward to anyone at the office, friends, or family:

Google Voice Web Interface

Watch a video overview of Google Voice

Hola Unblocker Chrome Extension

Google Voice is only available with U.S. numbers. If you’re outside of the U.S. you can use a proxy service like HOLA Unblocker for Chrome or Firefox to sign-up.

Main Benefits of Google Voice

  • Text message using your computer (Faster typing and easy to search history)
  • Unlimited texting history (Over four years of text messages can be archived)
  • Unlimited voicemail
  • Automatic voicemail transcription
  • Contacts are synced on your phone, tablet, computer, and gmail
  • Spam filter and caller blocking (Block Craigslist scammers and solicitors)
  • Free International calling from outside of the U.S. back to the U.S. (You can look up the rates for calling to non-U.S. numbers.)
  • Free International texting

Other Google Voice Benefits and Features You Might Use

  • Keep your personal / business calls, texts, and voice messages separate
  • Call forwarding (Ring multiple phones or ring them consecutively)
  • Conference calling (As each caller calls in you’ll be prompted to add them to the call)
  • Forward voicemails via email for follow-up and reference purposes.
  • Call recording (Press 4 during a call – there will be a recording announcement)
  • Custom greetings for groups and individual contacts
  • Activating Google Voice Voicemail for Your Native Cell Number (This is very easy and works with all major carriers. Note: you will not be able to text using your cell number using your computer, only your Google Voice Number.)

Recent Updates to Google Voice

Integration with Hangouts

  • As of September 12th of 2014, Google merged Google Voice with Google Hangouts.
  • If you use an Android device, you were probably prompted to merge them.  Go ahead and do this but I recommend you keep the Google Voice App for TXT messaging as it will have your history.
  • If you’re not receiving incoming calls to your hangouts app:
    • Open the latest version of the Hangouts app
    • Touch your profile photo
    • Touch the SETTINGS gear
    • Touch PHONE NUMBER
    • Next to Messages, touch the toggle button so it switches to green to turn on txt messages and voicemail in Hangouts.

MMS Messaging using Google Voice

  • As of October 7th, 2014, if you use the TXT forwarding to your cell number, MMS messages will go through to your carrier including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Bell Canada, Rogers, Telus, and many more.
  • If you don’t use TXT forwarding and choose to manage your Google Voice number and text messages through Google Voice App, then you will receive the MMS message through your email associated with your Google Voice Account.

Setting Up Google Voice

  • Just go to http://Google.com/Voice and sign in with your current Gmail or Google Apps account. Google Voice is very easy to set up if you are choosing to use a new Google provided number.
  • Get a new number from Google or port your current number.
    • (If you port your current cellular number, it will cancel your cell service and you’ll have to get a new number and set up the forwarding to the new number. This may be a hassle to work out the arrangements with your cell provider, but you would not have to update everyone with a new phone number, so that’s something to consider.)
    • If you live in an area without fast and reliable cellular data service, I would not advise porting your current number and trying to make this work reliably without the call and TXT forwarding enabled.
    • You can port your number to Google Voice and from Google later if it becomes a necessity for a $20 fee.
  • You will need to add a forwarding phone (a home or cellular number) that is not set up with another Google Voice Account. (Or you can just use one that is and then switch it back when you are done setting up the new account). 
    AF orwarding Phone Required To Setup Google Voice
  • I’m not going to walk you through selecting your number or signing up for a Google Account as that’s pretty straightforward.  Just click through the setup.
  • Once you’ve got your account set up, set your settings.
  • If you want to keep your Google Voice number completely separate from your cellular number for incoming and outgoing calls or make and receive calls through WIFI, turn off forwarding.
    Google Voice Settings
    • Note: This will force everything to go through cellular data and wifi vs using your phone minutes.
    • Audio only calls use 35 Kbps in each direction.
    • Cellular Phone Data Requirements: You need to have at least a 3G data connection which gives you a minimum of 128 Kbps when in a moving car.
    • Business and Home Internet Data Requirements: You need at least DSL speed (200Kbps is the slowest DSL goes) with WIFI for this to work reliably.
    • See video conferencing below for data requirements.
  • Record your greeting and recorded name. 
    Google Voice Voicemail Settings
  • Voicemails are transcribed by default.
  • Be sure call screening is off unless you want callers to have to announce their name. I have found some callers do not like this. You will also want to Display the Caller’s Number on your phone instead of your Google Voice number as it will ring with the Hangouts App so you will know it is a call to your Google Voice number. This will also prevent issues with callers accidentally being sent to your actual cellular number voicemail. 
    Google Voice Call Settings
  • You can set up some custom greetings for your contacts, create a call widget for your website or add some international calling credit in the next few tabs if you’d like.

iPhone and Android Apps for Google Voice

There are many calling apps out there, but I have found the best ones to be made by Google.  I have found that they have full functionality, history of calls, texting, and they don’t break when Google updates something.

Google Hangouts App Icon

1. Download the Hangouts App by Google

  • Install Hangouts from the App Store on iPhone
  • Install Hangouts from the Play Store on Android
  • Use this for outgoing calls if you want the call to come from your Google Voice number or for calling internationally.

Make calls with Hangouts on your Google Voice number

  • Just click the Hangouts app icon and click CALLS in the bottom right corner and the dialer in the top right corner.  KEYPAD will be selected so you can just dial the number or click PEOPLE and select your phone contact.
  • All of your hangouts contacts will be listed under contacts but not your phone contacts.
  • If you want to call back to the U.S., the best way will be to add + (by holding down the 0) and add 1 before the area code either in your actual contact or in the CALLS dialer. It may take about 10 seconds for it to ring.
    Making A Call With Google Hangouts App

Hangouts Settings

You don’t need to set any settings other than just logging into your Google Voice Account and confirming your phone’s number. By default all incoming calls to your Google Voice number will ring using this app on WIFI and cellular data.

2. Download the Google Voice App by Google

Google Voice App Message Screen

  • Install Google Voice from the App Store on iPhone or iPads
  • Install Google Voice from the Play Store on Android phones or tablets
  • Use this for text messaging and you’ll have full history from when you first signed up for Google Voice as it accesses and syncs with the Google Voice website.
  • There aren’t many settings on the app itself so you must set them on your computer.
  • Go to your computer and browse to http://Google.com/Voice.
    • Log in and set your settings (see Setting Up Google Voice above).
  • The only negative is that you can’t search your history with this App.

Searching your Google Voice text and call history

  • Currently no app allows for this (searching history of texts and calls made prior to pre-app install) that I’m aware of, even Google’s.
  • On your computer, just navigate to the website: http://Google.com/voice
  • On your cellular device or tablet, use the mobile version: https://www.google.com/voice/b/0/m
    Google Voice History Search on Mobile

Managing Multiple Google Voice / Voicemail Numbers

Follow these steps if you choose to use Google Voice for your cellular voicemail and choose to create a Google Voice number as well for texting purposes on your computer:

  • Log in to your first Google Voice account via https://www.google.com/voice/b/0.
  • Log in to the second at https://www.google.com/voice/b/1.
  • I recommend adding a shortcut to your bookmarks bar in your browser for quick access.
  • GV Connect Multiple Google Voice Accounts

    You may want to consider using a paid app on your phone or tablet if you are using Google Voice for your Cellular Voicemail and a Google Voice Number called GV Connect for $2.99. The disadvantage of non-Google-made apps is that when Google changes their system, these apps may go down for days or weeks at a time until they figure out how to connect with Google Voice’s new protocols.

  • There are currently no Chrome or Firefox extensions that work well or give you the full features of Google Voice yet that I am aware of since Google changed its protocols.

Google Hangouts vs Skype

Hangouts is very similar to Skype.  Here are a few things I have noticed in comparing and using both.  You can do screen shares with both as well.

  • Cellular Phone Data Requirements: You need to have at least a 3G data connection which gives you a minimum of 128 Kbps when in a moving car.
  • Business and Home Internet Data Requirements: You need at least DSL speed (200Kbps is the slowest DSL goes) with WIFI for either Skype or Hangouts to work reliably.
  • Call cell phone numbers with Hangouts.

    • Skype requires paid call credit to call cellular numbers.
    • Data usage and quality for voice calls is about the same.

      • 30 Kbps in each direction used for voice calls on Skype

        • 6-20 Kbps for Calls to mobile numbers or landlines  (150kb for one minute of calling on Skype).
      • 35 Kbps in each direction for voice calls on Hangouts
  • Single Person Video conferencing video and audio quality may be better on one or the other depending on where you are located.  I regularly switch back and forth between them if one isn’t working well.  It should automatically throttle the bandwidth and use as much as it can.   (Be warned on limited Cell Data plans! This can use up your data very quickly if your connection is 4G!)

    •  Data usage and quality for video calls (Skype has a lower minimum speed)

      • 128 Kbps – 1.2 Mbps in each direction used for single person video calls on Skype

        • 500 Kbps Average for Mobile to Mobile (3.75mb per minute) on Skype
        • 600 Kbps Average for Mobile to Computer (4.2mb per minute) on Skype
        • 1.5 Mbps Average for HD Video on computer in each direction (22.5mb per minute) on Skype
      • 300 Kbps – 2.6 Mbps in each direction (2.1mb – 18.2mb per minute) on HangoutsI also wanted to include that Facetime uses up to 440 Kbps (3mb per minute) over 3G or LTE.
  • Group video conferencing with Hangouts or Skype

    • Video calls on Hangouts can have a maximum of 10 participants
    • Video calls on Skype can have a maximum of 10 participants (As of October 25th 2014, Group Video Calls are Free)
    •  Data usage and quality for group video conferencing

      • 300 Kbps – 2.6 Mbps download and 300 Kbps – 4 Mbps upload for video on Hangouts
      • 512 Kbps – 4 Mbps download and 128 Kbps – 512 Kbps upload for video on Skype
  • Leave video messages with Skype
  • Videomail can be an awesome way to communicate with family, friends and the office!

Conclusion

Hopefully you’ve got a good idea of how to:

  • Set up and manage your Google Voice texts, calls, and voicemails
  • Mangage your native cellular voicemails with Google Voice
  • Keep things sorted between your personal cell and your Google Voice
  • Determine which Hangouts and Google Voice apps to use for calling and texting

I need to stress how much Google Voice relies on your cellular data and WIFI abilities if you’re not using the call and TXT forwarding. Keep this in mind if you’re using it for business purposes.

Google may continue to improve the Hangouts and Google Voice app and eliminate having to use both apps and website to fully utilize it.

Bottom line: Google Voice is a great free voice over IP service that will save you money and help you to be far more productive with your voicemail and texting management.

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