I was lucky enough to get a GrandCentral account about 2 years ago and, initially, I thought - “wow, this is really cool.” Now that two years have gone by, and everyone is getting a Google Voice account, I thought I should share my more refined opinion.

It’s still really cool.

I’m not going to say it’s all roses and there is nothing that could be improved; but for my usage it pretty much rocks.

Right off the bat it’s ability to record voicemail came in very handy for me. I was heading to Hong Kong for five weeks and, as it turns out, when someone was going to leave voicemail on my normal phone it was going to cost me international minutes (or at least it would cost me international minutes to listen to it). I honestly didn’t understand the logic behind that but it seemed pretty damn unacceptable. Thus, GrandCentral’s voicemail feature was a real boon.

I basically just setup the system to “Do Not Disturb” me for the next five weeks and to route all my calls straight to voicemail. I also told everyone I knew that my cellphone number had changed to my GrandCentral number. Thus there was little chance that someone would accidentally call me and force me to use an international calling plan. Since I was in Hong Kong for work, and at a computer for about 16 hours a day(working) I could quickly pull up the voicemail via the web dashboard, listen to it, and respond right away if it was really important.

Another great advantage to the service, for me, is that I give everyone this one number and they don’t have to know if it is my desk number, my cell number, or my home number - they just get a hold of me. Granted, this is a pretty small feature from my perspective, but it’s still pretty handy - I only have to remember one number to tell people; and my business card is a little less cluttered.

One of the cooler features is the ability to assign a different greeting to different people or groups in your contacts. I have a group setup for my co- workers, another set up for customers, another for my family, etc. This way when my family calls but I can’t answer they don’t have to wade through my boring business greeting - and I can still have some fun with my family greeting.

One area where I think the groups could come in handy is if, for some strange reason, I ever had to leave my current employment, the companies customers wouldn’t have to change their records to reach my company. I would just route them all to my old work number and our secretary could route them to the right person. Hopefully, I’ll never have to test that feature out but I can see the value.

One cool usage scenario for the separate greetings I had happened the fall after I first signed up. I started a small side business selling buffalo themed hats in honor of our local university (Marshall). My business was “HerdHats.com” (domain now dead) and I was giving out small business cards at the games for people who were on the fence about buying one. I set my default greeting on the service to be a “HerdHats” one but my co-workers, customers, and family never had to hear it - just anyone who I didn’t really know. It worked out really well.

I also like the online SMS log. I’ve read a few people talking about how SMS doesn’t work that well, but so far, for me, it has been great. My friends on other networks have SMS’d my Google Voice number and I’ve responded, and it’s worked fine from right within the native IPhone SMS app - plus my SMS conversation is logged in the Google Voice dashboard.

The transcription of voice-mails is a cool idea that just doesn’t work all that well yet. However, I imagine it will get better as time goes by. Currently I’d say it gets about 10% of the message right so, obviously, it isn’t very useful yet - but eventually I figure it will provide me with a good indication of what is in the message before I even load it up for listening.

One other area I have run into problems is with some mobile services. I can’t think of the names of them right now but in order to use them you have to provide your cell number and they will SMS you a signup code. For some reason my signup code doesn’t make it to me via the Google SMS so I end up having to give my real cell number. That is kind of a pain since I haven’t even told anyone my cell number in two years so it is kind of easy to forget; plus, can you really call it a global number if it doesn’t work globally?

I’m also not thrilled with thee the mobile web interface. It’s OK but I think I’d prefer a native app. Earlier over 3G the site was really slow and I couldn’t load any of the voicemail to listen to it. However, right now I’m on our WiFi (barely) and the site and the voicemail both loaded just fine. I’m not sure what’s going on with that.

My final beef is caller id. A bunch of my co-workers recently got Google Voice and so I put their numbers in my contacts list (and removed their mobile numbers initially). However, when they called my Google Voice number from their cell phone they then showed up as unknown contacts. I was hoping Google Voice would intelligently map the cell number to the Google Voice number that is registered with the cell. Thus I’ve re-added their mobile numbers as “other” numbers in Google Contacts (which syncs fine with my IPhone 3G).

One thing to remember is that the international calling discount is only available from the US to a foreign country. Thus, when I was in Hong Kong (or London) I couldn’t save any money by dialing up GrandCentral to make my international call - in fact if it worked at all it probably would have just cost me the normal international rate + the GrandCentral rate.

Overall I’m very happy with the service that is provided by Google Voice; particularly considering it is free. I really can’t imagine going back to my old way of managing my phone numbers. It’s also been very useful since we have cut back our home landline to a minimum usage plan so now all the people who used to call me there were switched to my GrandCentral number years ago and we’ve just stopped routing calls to that phone.

If there was one feature I wish they would add is a scheduled “Do Not Disturb” where I could tell the service to not ring through to my phone at all between a certain time window (say 10pm to 6am). But beyond that the service does everything I could want.