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. It lets you add add more phone numbers to forward calls to, change which phones calls, texts and MMS go to, set up your voicemail, view call logs and turn features like call blocking, call screening and conference calling on and off. One of my favorite features is the option to have voicemails transcribed to text and sent to my email address along with an audio recording of the voicemail message. You can also have texts and MMS forwarded to your email.
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 Google Voice app requires iOS 6.0 or later.
On Android the Google Voice app, which works on Android 2.0 and later, 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 two ways:
- The Google Voice desktop and mobile websites 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. 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 text. 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. 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: Google Voice users can now 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 menu icon in the top left, tap Settings, then tap your Google account and tap the checkbox next to Incoming phone calls to enable.
- On iOS: open Hangouts, 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.
One thing to watch out for is that if you use the Google Voice Web site to switch which phones you calls go to, you won't find Hangouts listed as something to enable or disable calls to. The old Google Talk option is still there but disabling it doesn't stop calls from going to Hangouts. That means that to switch between having Google Voice calls go to your mobile number or to Hangouts, you have to go the the Web site to enable or disable forwarding to your mobile number and then use the Hangouts app to enable and disable incoming calls in Hangouts app. If you leave both enabled the phone ringer and Hangouts ringer will both go off when you get a call which can be disconcerting.
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 or cellular number. This feature is optional, to enable it:
- In the Android Hangouts App: go to Menu > Settings > SMS and choose SMS Enabled.
- In the iOS Hangouts App go to Settings > Phone number and tap the toggle next to Messages so that it turns green
To choose whether SMS and MMS should be sent from your carrier or Google Voice number 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.
If you don't want to use a new Google Voice number or port your number to Google Voice you can still use Google Voice's voicemail features, including transcription, personalized greetings and sending voicemail to your email with your existing mobile number. This is called Google Voice Lite and doesn'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 must support conditional call forwarding. Many prepaid operators including Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and T-Mobile Prepaid do not support conditional call forwarding. Operators that do include GoPhone, Page Plus and Verizon Prepaid. See this Google Voice help page for instructions on setting up Google Voice Light.