If you have access to a phone to dial into a voicemail box, you can make ‘free’ phonecalls in the US (and inexpensive ones internationally). The Google Voice product allows this. Once you get into your Google voice mail, you can press a key and make an outgoing call. The outgoing call is free and you don’t need a computer (as you do with Skype) to make the call. You can call either a phone or a PC.
‘Free’ phone calls are great for the destitute.
This service can be great for folks (such as the homeless, destitute or severely poor) who may not otherwise be able to afford making calls – especially long distance calls, or who may not have access to a steady phone service. If you don’t have access to a phone service, Life Hacker claims to have a way to still make free calls using Google Voice with another product called Sipgate saying “When you’ve got Sipgate set up as one of your Google Voice numbers, you can, basically make and receive calls from your computer as if it were just a large and awkwardly designed cellphone.”
‘Free’ phone call consolidation is great for super users.
Google voice can also be a service folks with multiple phones might like. It allows you to use one phone number to receive calls from any of your other numbers (such as work, cell or home) and to set up individualized messages depending on which of your numbers phone number was called or who is calling. You can also block calls, listen in as people start to leave messages and have all of the calls transcribed and placed into an email like container.
Text messages to your cell phone are sent to this container, where you can respond to them without incurring further cell carrier expense.
To see the features direct from the horse’s mouth, check out the Google Voice features page.
One thing you can’t do from it, however, is call 911.
What’s the cost of these ‘free’ phone calls?
The cost (as of 2012) of all this ‘free’ stuff, is your privacy. Google transcribes all of your Google voice conversations to convert them to written transcripts (which you can then access through an internet connected computer). It uses the content from your conversation to send targeted ads to you – and presumably consolidate even more information about you and your ‘private’ life – who you call, who calls you, how often, for what purpose, how long you talk and etc.
Mike Eglan, writing for Computer World, theorizes that Google hires overseas people to do the transcribing. Not only is Google collecting information about you, they are reading your mail. The quote below is from this site:
“Let’s look at the big picture. Google already scans and indexes all your Gmail e-mail messages. It uses Google Maps and its hooks into your phone’s GPS to know exactly where you are. With Google Voice, it will know who you call and who calls you and how often. It will know what your voice messages and text messages say. The data extractable from all this is worth a fortune to advertisers — and to Google.”
I’ve had a call from a Google voice number, which went to my phones answering machine recorder and I have to say that the call quality was terrible. I don’t know if that is common or not however.
Other options exist for ‘free’ or low cost phone calls.
Google launched the product in 2009, and some (including the New York Times) started worrying about whether Google’s service would wipe out the competition.
Of course, there are other free, or close to free options to make domestic calls as well. Skype allows both video and audio calls between Skype users (and yes, they also record the calls) – but you have to initiate the call from a computer to use it.
Voice over internet is offered by many plans and companies today. You can check out the various options at Consumer Rankings.
No thanks to ‘free’ phone calls.
Even my web host provider offers low cost phone service over the internet. But, being old fashioned and set in my ways, I still use an analog, non-internet land line service. Why? I want my phone to work even if the power is out. I want my phone to work even if my internet is down. I want my phone to work even if my modem breaks. I want my phone to work even when there is a disruption in digital signals. I can afford it.
Do you use Google Voice? If so, why?