I have been a huge fan of Google's Grand Central service for many many years now and although I didn't use it much, it was sure nice to have. What Grand Central did was let you choose one number for all your phone. When someone called that number, every phone you registered would ring as well. You could pick any one of them up and enjoy the conversation. Of course with some extra cool features to boot. Grand Central has kind of been dead to Google for quite some time now. It is now back alive, but not as GrandCentral, but as Google Voice.
With Google Voice, your phone number becomes a portal to as many devices as you want, whether home, mobile, work or just somewhere you're passing through. And with every call you receive, Google is sitting in the middle, offering conferencing, voicemail and recording services.
You can pick both the US area code you want (nowadays this functions more to tell people which time zone you're in, rather than making any difference in call charges) and the number itself. The next step is to enter your existing phone numbers. Simple!
Now call quality is indistinguishable from the standard phone system, although not quite up to the excellent audio you get with the latest version of Skype and a decent headset. As Google is hosting the call, there are a host of smart features. Conference calls can be arranged on the fly, calls can be recorded (with an announcement) by pressing 4 and you can switch your call seamlessly to another device by pressing *. This is a great feature.
Voicemail options are equally wonderful. 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 OK but I am sure it'll get better over time. And talking of texting, Google Voice offers free SMS messaging to any mobile number, anywhere in the world; receiving and outgoing! My main problem for not giving this number out to everyone was the fact that many people are texting and I could receive a text previously, but now I can and the text will also be transferred to you cell phone.
Google Voice is a much needed improvement and I am glad I was one of the first to experience this great service. I will actually start giving out my Google Voice number now. Grand Central has been a closed beta since the beginning and I was lucky enough to be a tester for years and so I was able to upgrade my account automatically. If you are a Grand Central user, you can too. For everyone else, Google plans on rolling out Google Voice in the next "few weeks."
This service is going to scare a lot of VoIP companies out there. Free doesn't compare with the $2.95/month Skype is charging for there unlimited calls. Google Voice's international plan is even cheaper than Skypes' so perhaps will start seeing some changes in other VoIP carriers because of Google. Time will tell...
In the meantime, keep a close eye on Google Voice!