Automatic voice transcription and free SMS
Voicemail options are superb, too. Not only can you screen calls as they arrive (and take the call if it's important), all voicemails are automatically transcribed and can be texted or emailed anywhere you want. Transcription quality is pretty good although it's annoying that numbers in particular seem to get garbled. And talking of texting, Google Voice offers free SMS messaging to any mobile number, anywhere in the world.
There are indications that this is still a beta service: you can't forward to international phone numbers, the service can't handle fax calls, you can only record and conference call inbound calls, and recordings aren't transcribed like voicemails. But these are minor quibbles that hardly detract from what is already an impressively polished and efficient service.
While it's true that none of these features are truly new, by gathering them together and integrating them with its massively popular Gmail service, Google makes the move to VOIP completely painless. There are no new phones or headsets to buy, no tiresome duplication of contacts, no long-term contracts or dialling codes. As to be expected with any Mountain View product, Google Voice is completely free apart from the cost of international calls – although I doubt today's ad-less interface will stay that way for too long.
When is Google Voice available?
Google Voice rolls out to US customers 'in the coming weeks', which gives Skype a tight deadline to re-think its current $2.95 (£2.10) monthly charge for unlimited US calls. Google Voice will certainly be massively disruptive in the VOIP world, but big telcos may not panic just yet. US mobile phone companies charge customers the same regardless of whether they're making or receiving calls, and most landlines already offer reasonable unlimited US calling plans.
But by offering premium services like next gen call management, voicemail and conferencing for free, Google Voice helps reduce phone companies to little more than providers of air-time 'minutes'. And the long term repercussions of that are anyone's guess.