Apr 19, 2010

Google Voice and Skype

We are in the process of moving out of the office and into a home office. We upgraded at home from DSL to cable and were looking at the various options for phone service, VOIP, SIP Trunks, POTS, etc. Everything seemed to have either a large ($1,000) up front cost or a monthly fee of around $25 per line. While compared to the $250/month business plan I’m ditching, all of the options were bargains, they still seemed on the expensive side considering I can make Skype to Skype video calls for free anywhere in the world.

A while back I signed up for a Google Voice account and eventually my name came up and I was granted access. Google Voice is a free service from Google that gives you a lot of nice features. It obviates the need for call forwarding. If people call your GV number you can specify which phones (cell, Skype, home, etc) will ring for which people. You can have call screening for everyone, or just for unknown people. Call screening is different than caller ID, with screening you are always given the option of answering a call or sending it direct to voice mail. If caller ID is blocked you can tell GV to prompt the caller to state their name. GV will then play back what that person said when announcing the call.

While GV does provide most of the functions of my $6,000 office PBX system it doesn’t give me a extra phone line in the house and it doesn’t forward to a Skype account that doesn’t have a phone number.  You can buy a phone number from Skype for $60/year . Separately you can buy an unlimited calling subscription so that you can call any mobile or land line in the US or Canada for $2.95/month (15% less if you pay for a year in advance). If you get a subscription the phone number cost drops to $30. So for about $5 month, I now have two new phone numbers (only one of which I have to give out) and I can make all the local and long distance calls I need to from my computer. I can buy a wireless headset for Skype if I don’t want to be tethered to the computer and there are also some nice Skype phones that are actually small computers in a phone handset footprint in the $100-$200 range.


Google Voice and Skype overlap in some areas, voicemail in particular comes to mind. The notification for voice mail in Skype is less than friendly and not very well thought out. It’s just the opposite in GV. Skype charges for transcriptions of voice mail sent as text messages or emails, GV does it for free. Skype makes you work to figure out how to find and playback a voice mail, GV gives you a Voicemail tab in the left column that’s always visible (see the image below). The transcription service from GV is a little hit and miss. One transcription below from a female caller  that speaks fast and was on a somewhat noisy line reads: it’s calling from  I’d like to a couple of why didn’t you know that working out. …  What was actually said was Hey it’s me I’m calling you from Skype to Google Voice to see how that works out".  I could easily understand the recorded message. The second transcription was from a cleaner phone call, from a male who spoke slower. It only missed one word and that was an “uuh” that got interpreted as “your”. So sometimes, it can be pretty impressive, other times it’s like playing MadLibs.


Here’s what you have to do to find your voice mail in Skype. On your list of contacts switch over to the Conversations tab (I’ve never even noticed this tab previously. Look at the bottom of your contacts and click on the Show History button. Then you can optionally filter the results to just show voice mails as shown in the final image. This is not exactly an intuitive interface. Even with that, today I got notified that I had a new voice mail on Skype and searched everywhere for it and never did find it. Oh well, it couldn’t have been that important or they would have my Google Voice number.

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Tod Gentille (@todgentille) is now a Curriculum Director for Pluralsight. He's been programming professionally since well before you were born and was a software consultant for most of his career. He's also a father, husband, drummer, and windsurfer. He wants to be a guitar player but he just hasn't got the chops for it.