Google - Finally - Puts the Cherry on its GrandCentral Sundae

Anyone who was lucky enough to grab a GrandCentral account during one of the short spans when they were available to grab can testify that it is an interesting service, to say the least. As interesting as it may be, though, it has been plagued with technical and customer service issues that had some declaring that Google had left the platform for dead. A reasonable assumption — until this morning, that is.

Users of the GrandCentral service woke this morning to find reports milling about the internet declaring the wonders of Google Voice — the successor-service to GrandCentral, which is currently being rolled out to existing users. What exactly are these amazing features that have everyone atwitter?

  • SMS: As everyone's "one number for life," GrandCentral had a serious shortcoming, namely, that you couldn't send text messages though the service. While friends and family could call a user on their GrandCentral number, users were stuck with giving out their existing mobile number to anyone who might want or need to send by SMS. That has changed, as Google Voice can now accept and properly redirect SMS messages just like calls.
  • Friend settings: Under GrandCentral, users had the option of diverting contacts according to per-person preferences, but only after GrandCentral answered the call and identified the caller. Now, individual calls can be sent directly to voicemail or a specific phone, bypassing the greeting/identification stage.
  • Conference Calling: Users may now stage conference calls for up to six participants, free of charge for domestic numbers. The call can also be recorded by Google Voice.
  • International Calling: While Google Voice remains a US-only service, users have the ability to make international calls from within Google Voice at rates comparable to the major VOIP carriers.
  • GUI: The GrandCentral interface — which one might generously have described as kludgy — has undergone more face lifting than Joan Rivers. Taking its cue from Gmail, Google Voice offers users a tabbed view with placed calls, received calls, missed calls, recorded calls, voicemail, and SMS, as well as the ability to search and tag voicemail and SMS messages. Integration with Gmail is coming — indeed, the label "voicemail" is already restricted for system use in Gmail and we're sure it won't be long before other services, like gTalk, are integrated too.
  • Visual Voicemail: If there's one thing we — and plenty of others — hated about GrandCentral, it was listening to voicemail. Of course, this isn't unique to GrandCentral — whatever service you use, once a message has been left, it's up to you to listen to it and respond. Google Voice promises to end that by transcribing each voicemail — within 30 seconds of being recorded, they say — and sending it as text via email or SMS, while allowing users to add tags and notes to the messages.

Google Voice — for now — is only available to existing GrandCentral users, and the option to upgrade existing accounts is being rolled out slowly. Some anxious souls have been unable to wait, and have turned to online auction sites like eBay to get their fix, paying as much as $650 for the free-but-unobtainable accounts. For our part, we'll wait for the accounts we have — registered long ago, not eBayed — to show up that shiny "Upgrade" link.

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