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How does Google Voice work, and should you use it?

(Image credit: Google)

In the world of cloud-based phone systems, Google Voice is among the best. It offers an outstanding slate of services, affordable pricing, and the opportunity for you to take your home or office phone with you wherever you go.

Indeed, Google Voice may not be the best alternative to your mobile device, but if you’re someone who’s looking for a cheap way to get a business phone or you simply want an alternative to your home phone, Google Voice is a great way to go about it.

So if you find yourself asking "how does Google Voice work?" read on for our comprehensive guide to Google's cloud-based phone platform.

What is Google Voice? 

Google Voice is a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service that was founded in 2009. You can use the service to make and receive phone calls, as well as send text messages. You can also use it to forward calls from one number to another, so you can easily manage all of your communication from phone.

Since Google Voice is a VoIP service, it works solely over the Internet. But that also means that wherever you have an Internet connection, you can access the service and make calls, send text messages, and more. Best of all, you only need a microphone and speaker to use Google Voice, so whether you decide to make and place calls on your laptop or your smartphone, it’ll work just fine.

Think of Google Voice as a phone you can bring with you wherever you go and use on any device you want.

How much does Google Voice cost? 

One of the great things about Google Voice is that it’s extremely affordable. It’s a free service to sign up for, and as long as you use it to communicate between your Google Voice number and other U.S. numbers, it’s totally free to place calls and send text messages. 

When you want to place calls overseas, you’ll need to add credits to your account to pay for service. In most cases, however, the fees are minimal and just a couple cents per minute. 

Here’s a handy tool from Google on call rates. You can input the country you’re planning to contact and see the cost with it.

How does Google Voice work? 

Google Voice is surprisingly simple in how it works and how you can set it up.

The service works over a broadband connection, so as long as you’re connected to your home or office network, it’ll work just fine.

When you sign up for the first time, you have the option of using your own phone number that you can port to the service or getting your own. If you choose the latter, you’ll need to input your area code and pick the phone number of choice. If you care about the phone number’s digits (like if you’re a business and want to get a vanity number people can dial), you can input your desired digits and see if they’re available.

Once you have your phone number (it happens immediately), you can create your voicemail message. You can then start making calls from your phone or your computer. You can also use the service to send and receive text messages.

When you get a voicemail in Google Voice, you’ll be able to access it in the app and get a transcript (and recording) of it sent to your e-mail. 

When you receive a call, especially if you have your Google Voice forwarded to your cell phone, you’ll hear an alert that someone is calling the Google Voice number. You’ll then have the option of answering or not. And if you decide to call back, you can decide to have your Google Voice number show up on the person’s caller ID instead of your iPhone or Android device’s number.

And if you want to have your number ring to multiple devices, that’s perfectly fine. It’s especially handy in corporate settings, where multiple people may want to answer the company’s line.

Can I use Google Voice on an iPhone? 

As discussed, Google Voice works just fine on Android and the Web, but you might be wondering if it’ll also work on an iPhone. Luckily, Google offers a free app in the App Store that allows you to run Google Voice on the iPhone (or iPad or iPod Touch). From the app, you can listen to voicemails, place calls, and send text messages, just as you can in the Android app or the browser. 

How do I set up Google Voice? 

If you want to set up Google Voice for the first time, you’ll be happy to know the process is quite simple. Here’s a rundown:

1. Go to voice.google.com, click the Get Google Voice button, and log in to your Google account.

2. You can sign up on your iPhone or Android device, but for the purposes of this walkthrough, let’s opt for the Web sign-up.

3. Once you accept the terms and service, click Continue to get to the page where you can find or choose a phone number. 

4. On the list of options, choose Select when you’ve found your winner and move on to verify your existing number.

5. On this pane, you need to verify with Google that you have an existing number. Be aware that the number you input here will be the initial line you’ll use for call forwarding from Google Voice to the number.

6. Once you click the Verify button and input your phone number, Google will text you a code you need to input into Google Voice. Get that code and input it here. Click Verify.

7. Once your phone number has been verified, Google requires you to tap Claim to officially take control over the number. Do that and you’ll be all set.