This post aims to be a simple and concise guide to getting the most out Google Voice and Hangouts.
Google Voice is basically a call forwarding and voice mail service. It gives you a new "phone number for life", or you can port an existing mobile number to Google Voice. Calls, MMS and texts to your Google Voice number are routed to one or more (up to 6) mobile or land-line numbers that you specify. This is handy for people like me who have multiple, frequently changing phone numbers. The only number I give out is my Google Voice number, calls and texts to it reach me regardless of which phone I’m carrying. There's a lot more to Google Voice than call forwarding, including voice mail transcription, call screening and selective blocking of calls from certain numbers like those used by telemarketers.
To get started with Google Voice you just need a Google account and a phone number to forward calls to. Sign up for Google Voice at voice.google.com. It's free if you get a new Google Voice number (you even get a choice of phone numbers) or you can port an existing mobile number to Google Voice for a one time $20 fee.
Setup and manage your Google Voice account. The desktop version of the Google Voice website is the main place to manage your Google Voice account. The website was updated in January, 2017 and the new version at voice.google.com is rather simplistic and missing most of the setup and settings features of the legacy Google Voice site.
Fortunately the Google Voice legacy site is still available. To get to it either click the three dot menu in the left side bar of the new site and then click the Legacy Google Voice link or else go their directly to the legacy site URL of google.com/voice. You must use the Legacy site to add add new forwarding phone numbers, set up your voicemail, delete multiple messages at once, mark messages and emails unread, port numbers, turn features like call blocking, call screening and conference calling on and off and add funds for international calling. One of my favorite Google Voice features that you can only set up on the legacy site is the option to have voicemails transcribed to text and sent to an email address along with an audio recording of the voicemail message. You can also have texts and MMS forwarded to your email.
You can use either the new or the legacy site to change which phones receive calls, texts and MMS, view call logs and messages, send texts and make calls to contacts or to numbers that are in your call or messaging history.
Making calls using your Google Voice number. There are many ways to make outgoing calls with your Google Voice number. The easiest way is with the Google Voice apps for Android and iOS.
Using the Google Voice app for iOS or Android.
On iOS you make Google Voice calls using the Google Voice app's built in dialer and Contact list (which displays your Apple Contacts). The current Google Voice app requires iOS 9.0 or later but you can still install older versions that work with iOS versions going back to at least iOS 7.
On Android the Google Voice app integrates with the phone's native dialer so you can make calls normally from your contacts or by using the keypad or clicking a number in the browser or in a different app. The Google Voice Android app lets you choose whether to make all calls with Google Voice, ask every time if you want to call with your cell number or your Google Voice number, or only use Google Voice for making international calls.
Calls made using the Google Voice apps use cellular minutes so they aren't free unless you have an unlimited plan. Google Voice itself doesn't charge anything for most calls to US and Canadian numbers. Calling a few, mostly rural, landline numbers costs 1¢/minute. However making calls with the Google Voice apps uses cellular minutes so you still have to pay your mobile operator by the minute or month. The first time you call a number, the Google Voice app uses a small amount of data, probably less than a KB, to determine how to route calls to that number.
With international rates that are lower than those of most mobile operators, Google Voice is a good choice for making occasional international calls. Sample rates per minute for calling mobile phones are: Canada free, China 1¢, Mexico 5¢, Philippines 15¢, UK 3¢.
Making calls without an app: There are no longer any Google Voice apps for Windows Phone or BlackBerry and there never were any for feature phones. You can still make calls using your Google Voice number without an app but it's a little harder. There are three ways:
- The Google Voice mobile website and the legacy version of the desktop Google Voice site let you make calls by dialing a number or choosing a Google contact. Google Voice then calls your phone and when you answer it calls the other party and combines the two calls.
- You can also make calls by calling your Google Voice number from any of your phones, pressing 2 and then dialing the number you want to call when prompted. It may be possible to automate this process on some platforms using a generic calling card app.
- When you receive a text to your Google number it will come from a Google virtual number (the sender's real number will be in the 1st line of the message body). If you call one of those virtual Numbers (save them to the contact they are from for convenience) the call will be routed to that contact and will show them your Google Voice number as the caller id.
On iOS and Android you send SMS texts using the Google Voice app which also displays received messages in a threaded format. If you are using Google Voice for Android version 5.0 or latter or iOS app version 2.0 or latter you can also send and receive MMS picture messages. Texts are sent using WiFi or cellular data and do not count against your operator's text bucket. Google voice uses very little data, less than a KB, to send a SMS. MMS use more data because it takes data to send the picture, video or audio attachment. On PayGo plans that charge for each text and MB of data it's generally cheaper to use Google Voice for texting than the mobile network. You can also read and send texts using the Google Voice desktop or mobile websites on a PC or a phone.
On platforms that don't have a Google Voice app you can use the mobile or desktop Google Voice website to send texts. The new desktop Google Voice website also lets you send MMS. If you configure Google Voice to forward texts to your email, replying to an emailed text will send that reply as a text from your Google Voice number to the person you are texting.
Making free Google Voice calls over WiFi with Hangouts: The Google Hangouts app lets Google Voice users make calls using WiFi or cellular data (VOIP) instead of traditional packet switched mobile voice. That means calls to most US and Canadian numbers are free when using WiFi.
To make calls with Hangouts on Android you need Android 4.0.3 or later and both the Hangouts and Hangouts Dialer apps. On iOS you just need the Hangouts app which requires iOS 6.0 or later. To make make calls using data on either platform you need to use the Hangouts app which has its own dial pad and a view of your Android or Apple contacts.
Receiving incoming calls with Hangouts: receiving calls though Hangouts is not enabled by default. To turn in on:
- On Android: open Hangouts, tap the "hamburger" menu icon in the top left, tap Settings, then tap your Google account and tap the Incoming phones calls slider so that it turns green.
- On iOS: open Hangouts, tap the menu icon in the top left, tap your profile picture at the top of the screen, tap Settings, then tap Phone number and tap the Incoming phones calls slider so it turns green.
SMS and MMS with Hangouts: On Android 4.0 and later and iOS 6.0 and later you can also use Hangouts to send and receive SMS and MMS using your Google Voice number. This feature is optional. Now that the new Google Voice apps support MMS I prefer to use them for Google Voice Messaging. But if you'd rather Hangouts for Google Voice messaging, here's how to enable it:
- In the iOS Hangouts app: Tap the "hamburger" menu icon in the top left, tap your profile picture at the top of the screen, tap Settings, then tap Phone number and tap the Messages slider so it turns green.
- In the Android Hangouts app; Tap the "hamburger" menu icon in the top left and then tap Settings > SMS and choose SMS Enabled, then go back to Settings, and tap your Google account and tap the slider next to Messages in the Google Voice sections until it moves right and turns green.
To choose whether SMS and MMS should be sent from your carrier number or your Google Voice number in Hangouts go to Menu > Settings > SMS in the Hangouts app and tap Send SMS from. You can choose Google Voice number, Carrier number or Smart Reply which sends replies from whichever number received the message and give you a choice of which number to send from when starting a new message.
Changing from using the Google Voice app to Hangouts for SMS is reversible. To switch back to Google Voice, simply reverse the changes you made in Hangouts.
New Google Voice Apps with MMS Support: Starting January 23, 2017 Google has been rolling out updated versions of the Google Voice Android and iOS apps. The rollout is staged and it will take several weeks before the update is available to all users. The update adds a number of new features including the ability to send and receive MMS, manage which phones calls and texts are forwarded to, block phone numbers and use multiple Google Voice accounts. The Google Voice website has also been redesigned but you won't see the new version until you have installed the new version of the app on at least one device.
The new Android app identifies itself as Version 5.0 and requires Android 4.1 or later. The new iOS app is version 2.0 and requires iOS 9. The new iOS app does not support "Click2Call", so if you are using that feature, do not update your Google Voice iOS app. Click2Call lets you initiate a call on one device, such as a non-voice enabled iPad. Google Voice then calls your phone and when you answer it calls the other party and combines the two calls.
Google Voice Lite let you use Google Voice's voicemail features, including transcription, personalized greetings and sending voicemail to your email with your existing mobile number. Google Voice Lite didn't include most of the full Google Voice features like call screening, call blocking, 3-way calling, or forwarding calls to multiple phones. To use Google Voice Lite, your mobile operator had to support conditional call forwarding. Many prepaid operators including Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and T-Mobile Prepaid do
Updated 2-Feb-2016 New versions of the Google Voice apps and website, Google Voice Lite discontinued.