Google Voice is suddenly everywhere—in Gmail, Android devices, and now even on iPhones. Beyond the basic call/text/voicemail services, though, Google Voice can do some pretty incredible things. Here's a look at the more unusual—and unusually helpful—alternate uses.
If you're just getting into Google Voice and all its call-routing, free-SMS-sending, and voicemail-transcribing ways, we'd suggest taking a glance at our tips on easing your transition to Google Voice and these 10 clever Google Voice tricks. Also, if you're signed up for Google Voice, but as a voicemail-only user, take note that not all of these uses may be available to you (but most are).
The Killer Alternate Number
Signing up for the "full" Google Voice service provides you with a new number in your area code of choice. Maybe you don't want to change a number you've had for a while, though, or you just can't bear to switch again. Here are some clever uses for that free Google Voice phone number that don't involve completely changing your number.
Permanent Emergency Contact Number:
Rather than provide your own number, your spouse or parents' numbers, and try to be on top of any changes that occur in perpetuity, set up a Google Voice number and give that out as your emergency number. Hook that number up to your phones and any other emergency contacts' phones, and swap them in and out as your lives progress.
Get a Second Number in Another Area
If you're keeping your standard cellular number, but you'd like to get a number in another area code for logistics or appearances, grabbing a Google Voice number is a free and fairly pain-free way to do it. But what if you already have a Google Voice number and would like a second? Do what reader Phillip did and set that number as a "home" or "work" for the second account (or on both accounts, if you plan to use them equally). Your secondary number won't be able to forward text messages through standard SMS, but you can have them emailed to you instantly. On most smartphones these days, that's as good as SMS.
Trade Pre-Paid/Trac Phones Under One Number
If you're not a heavy phone talker, or you just like the contract-free nature of pay-as-you-go phones, you can at least keep the same incoming number without having to go through a manual switch by hooking those phones into your Google Voice number. Dialing out isn't as convenient, but can be made easier, once you learn your contacts' Voice-specific numbers (detailed by Gina).
Hand Out Your Voice Number, Then Screen It
It's not really a hidden or even obscure feature of Google Voice, but the depth of call screening, filtering, and blocking in the service likely goes unexplored. If you're not dedicated to your Voice number, you can have your contacts keep calling your trusted number. Your Voice number? Give it out to companies or pepole you know will be phone-spamming you, or use it on personal business card (or discrete slips of paper). You can have Voice make each caller say their name and present it for you before taking the call, and set offenders of your free time to always go to a specific voicemail. Truly egregious jerks can even be sent to what sounds like a wrong number. Now, that—that is sweet justice.
The Free Voice-to-Text Transcription Service (for More than Just Voicemail)
Google Voice's voicemail transcribing powers are far from infallible, but it's often good enough to get the gist—especially if you're the one talking, and you know how to speak steady and clearly.
Create a Searchable Personal Dictation Machine
Calling your own voicemail to speak your own ideas is weird. Emailing yourself while driving is deadly. Instead, set up Google Voice to take a call from your own number, transcribe it, and keep it stored in your Voice or Gmail database, or forwarded to any service you use. We turn to Mark Stout's setup and Drew Vogel's idea for inspiration. Vogel sends along his messages to Outlook, while Stout keeps his stashed in Evernote. Mix and modify to fit your own speech-as-text needs.
Blog or Write to Other Services
You can set up Google Voice to blog to a WordPress site when you leave a voicemail, as MakeUseOf.com details. We'd recommend expanding their filter to require an activating word, so that not all of your self-dialed voicemails end up on your site, but it's a great picture overall of how Voice's transcribe-then-email function can interact with any web service that functions through automated email checking.
The Phone Upgrade Tool
By its very nature, Google Voice makes your phones smarter by knowing when to ring them, and ringing them all from one number. But it has a few unofficial ways to save you money and boost your phone's own convenience powers.
The Bill Reducer
Google Voice officially offers free calls through Gmail, but there are other ways you can connect through the service to call for free. We covered one VoIP setup that basically turns Voice into a Skype-like service, and there are solutions for Android phones, too—the How-To Geek's compendium offers an updated how-to on connecting Android to SIPgate. And while Google Voice's official smartphone apps now connect you through individual dialing numbers, you can make what you know will be a long call a freebie by assigning your Google Voice number as one of "your 5" on your cellular plan—just call your own Voice number, then dial out from the menu prompt.
Add Contacts Faces as Speed Dial Icons on an iPhone
There are apps that create custom shortcuts for iPhone screens; some of them require jailbreaking. Using a Google Voice account and a little Web Clip magic to add Google Voice visual speed dialing to an iPhone. It's a little wonky to do over and over, but once you've set up one or two important contacts, you get access to all their numbers, right from your home screen.
Set Recurring or Temporary Quiet Hours on Your Phone
In the Advanced Settings area of Google Voice's Phones menu on the web, you can set the times in which each hooked-up phone will ring. But if you're about to hit crunch mode, or you should otherwise be without rings or buzzes, you can set up a do-not-disturb timer on your account for X minutes, hours, days, or weeks.
The Automatic Voicemail Forwarding Service
If you're in a long-term relationship, you know that sometimes the two members of the team often assume that each person knows everything the other person has heard from friends, relatives, and other contacts. Google Voice itself can only forward all or none of its messages to certain email addresses—but if you forward to a Gmail address, you can then use your Gmail Master filtering skills to have certain messages automatically forwarded to others (i.e. "has the words: 'New voicemail from Dave'"). That way, when the contractor calls and says the appliance delivery is set for Monday at 9 a.m., nobody's left wondering if they'll come home to a refrigerator on the lawn.
The Tool That Turns Gmail Into a Land Line
Adam already covered eight ways to put Google Voice to use in Gmail. The theme of the batch? With Voice calling available from inside Gmail, your regular workstation—desktop, laptop, or other—can serve as a kind of VoIP land line. Switch your calls from your cell to your PC to save on minutes, take a speakerphone or conference call through Gmail, use the pop-up call windows as a form of instant caller ID, and get more control over call recording—just as if the boss had given you one of those fancy phones from the 90s with all the 80+ buttons.
We racked our brains, asked our friends, and dug through the deep archives to find these nifty uses of Google's free phone service. What do you use Google Voice for that's not on the label? What's the cleverest Voice hack you've seen? Tell us about it in the comments, and we'll add it to the post and give you the glory.