Google Voice review: a year with some great features and annoyances

In this Google Voice review I'll go over how I've used its many unique features over the past year with my Android phone, iPad, and laptop.  I'll also look ahead to the future of Voice and how it may be changing in the months to come.  There's a lot to like about Google Voice, but there are also some big shortcomings.  Read on to find out if it's for you.

Google Voice review

 Google Voice review

Google Voice is a free service with many calling and texting features.  When you sign up you get a 'Google Voice number' or you can port an existing phone number over.  You can set calls and texts to this number to be forwarded to other numbers.  Missed calls, voicemails, and texts can also be accessed through the Google Voice mobile app, or online in a Gmail-like interface.

My initial motivation for joining Google Voice was to have a single number that I could keep while trying out different prepaid cell plans and also use on my iPad while in between cell phones.  Using Google Voice with Hangouts or other services also allows you to use a tablet to make and receive calls or use a smartphone with a data-only cell plan.  Voice has been great for that, and it's really nice to switch back and forth between different prepaid carriers without worrying about porting my number.

I also really like being able to get my messages on any device.  I tend to have my iPad or laptop closer by than my smartphone when I'm at home.  With my setup calls and texts also come through over data (either cellular or wifi) so if I'm in a location with bad cell service I still get my messages if I'm on wifi.  Apple is doing its best to replicate these features with iMessage and FaceTime, but not everyone has an iPhone or uses those apps.

However, Voice has some annoyances.  The biggest is that it doesn't work with MMS messages (aka picture messages).  iPhones also send group messages as MMS.  You simply won't get any of these messages, and you'll have no idea they were ever sent.  I've tried to remind my close friends to send pictures through iMessage, Hangouts, or email, but that doesn't always work.  For this reason alone I'm considering going back to a normal smartphone plan now that I've tried a few out and know what would work for me.

Once upon a time the Google Voice app probably looked really nice and seemed like it was packed full of features.  It hasn't been updated in years though and looks very dated and has a subpar user experience.  I believe this is because Google has been busily working to integrate Voice's functionality into Hangouts, but there are some people who think Voice will be killed off soon.

The future of Google Voice

Google hasn't updated Voice or its mobile apps since 2012 except for minor bug fixes.  However, they have added some Voice-like functionality into Hangouts.   Hangouts for iOS will ring for incoming calls made to your Google Voice number (if set to do so) and also supports making free calls over a data connection to US phone numbers.  These features aren't available on Android, but Hangouts is now the default texting app for Android devices.  I use the Voice and Hangouts apps for all of my calling and texting needs on my iPad and they work well.  Hangouts for computers also supports free calling.

Meanwhile, Google is pulling the plug on 3rd party apps that use Google Voice for VoIP calling and messaging on May 15th.  I used one such app, Talkatone, and Talkatone's own solution is definitely a downgrade, but serviceable.

I'm hopeful that Google integrates more of the Voice app's functionality into Hangouts.  It would be great if Hangouts could be used to send and receive texts over data, get voicemails, and also make free calls over data on both Apple and Android devices.  If Google did this they could kill off the dedicated Voice apps and lure more users into using Hangouts (which is already a nice messaging and video calling app on its own).  Google seems intent on getting its users to use Hangouts (which is why I believe they made it the default texting app on Android).  Adding free calling and texting with a Google Voice number would likely get a lot more people using it.

Wrap-up

Voice has some really great free features that I don't want to give up:  texting and calling over data on any of my devices.  It also gives me the ability to use my phone with a data-only cell plan, saving me quite a bit of money each month.  The inability to send or receive MMS messages is a pain point though, and I'm somewhat concerned about relying on Voice without a clear commitment to the service from Google.

With that said, I'm waiting for some type of announcement before going back to a normal cell plan.  I hope to hear something from Google at the I/O conference this June.