Help me use Google Voice on OSX.
September 17, 2011 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Help me make the most of Google Voice! I want to be able to send and receive phone calls and text messages on my Mac. I have an iPhone and a Google Voice number. Can you clear up a few things for me?

How do I answer incoming calls on my Mac?

Can I add Google Voice to my iGoogle home page? It seems silly that I can't find a way to do this.

Are there any particularly good Mac Apps for Google Voice? I see something called BigPhone, but there's no way to try it before buying it. GrowlVoice looks awesome, but I can't get it to make calls, and it doesn't look like it has the ability to answer them.

What about iPhone apps? Is there a difference between the GoogleVoice app and the Talkatone app? Is the GoogleVoice app the best app to use?

Is there a reason I shouldn't use Google Voice instead of my regular AT&T number when talking on my iPhone? Any Google Voice best practices / tips / tricks I should know of?
posted by 2oh1 to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
They have this for Chrome.

Personally, I use GV for texting only, as the call quality seems terrible. I called someone in the same parking lot as me and it was pure static/weird noises. (I'm in Omaha, NE FWIW.)

I think Talkatone would use it's own services, the same was as GV uses its own number and servers and whatnot. I don't have an iPhone so someone else should be able to chime in with more.

You cannot receive picture messages on GV.
posted by trogdole at 1:26 PM on September 17, 2011

How do you use it for texting only? Doesn't that mean you end up giving people two phone numbers? Or is there a way to have texts sent to your main phone number to google voice instead?
posted by 2oh1 at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2011

If you use GV for texting only, yes, you'll end up giving people two numbers -- one for voice, one for text. If you get MMS messages ever, you'll also need to make sure people know to send those to your "real" phone number and not your GV number because GV does not do MMS.

AFAIK, the only way to make GV calls on your computer is through Gmail's web interface. To do to do so you have to add Gmail to your "authorized numbers" in the GV settings.

I remember there being a GV widget for iGoogle at one point, but I couldn't ever get it to work all that well. I always found it easier to deal with GV through Gmail anyway.

You can send and receive texts on your Mac pretty easily. You can do this either through Gmail or GV in your browser, or you can also have GV texts and transcribed voice messages sent to your Gmail and, if you use an email app, like, you'll get those texts and voicemail notifications in your inbox. BTW, you can reply to texts from (or Thunderbird or whatever mail app you use) just as you'd reply to any email.

On your iPhone, use the GV app -- it's the only app that works with GV. You can also use GV through the browser.

I have not had call quality issues with GV, but I have had occasional issues with voicemail messages not showing up and with texts not going through. Despite those problems, I do use my GV number as my primary number. I do not use the "ring through to multiple phones" feature because I find that makes it ring FOREVER for whoever is calling me -- up to a dozen rings for some callers -- and I only have one other phone besides my cellphone, anyway, my work phone, and I generally don't want people reaching me at work if they're calling my personal number.

A few notes -- you can authorize multiple phones but not "activate" them so that they don't ring through. For instance, I have authorized my work phone solely so that it's easy to use my GV number to make long distance calls from my work phone. Before I authorized my work phone, I had to call my GV number, wait for it to ring through to voicemail, and then enter the voicemail system to make LD calls. Authorizing my work phone means when I call my GV number from work, it goes straight to my GV voicemail box, from which I can make those lovely free LD calls.
posted by devinemissk at 6:39 PM on September 17, 2011

How do I answer incoming calls on my Mac?

You get a headset and make sure your calls are set to ring to Google Talk.

What this means day-to-day is that you have to have the GMail web interface open in a browser, and be ready to click a button to take the call.

If you bill for your time, it's really nice to be able to get the log of who called and the duration of the call.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:02 PM on September 17, 2011

You don't have to give people two numbers.

You can program your GV account to ring whatever phone(s) you want when the GV number is called. If we are both at home when someone calls our GV number, all three phones (one home, two cell) ring. It's nice, because when we switch phones (which happens a lot for us, we are always on the prowl for a better deal), we just reprogram GV, we don't have to give everyone a new number. And our home phone is a $2.50/mo unlimited VOIP deal, so we answer that rather than our cells when we can. This saves us tons of money- we spend less than $100/yr on cell service for two people.

We place and receive texts exclusively through GV, on our laptops and iPods. Again, you can program your cell phones not to let GV texts through. (We both live and work under wifi clouds. This system might not work for everyone, but it's great for us.)

The major problem that we have had is that when we place calls, our GV number does not show up on caller ID. You just have to educate people. I say all the time, "We have several numbers. This one is the very best one to reach us at."

We don't place voice calls through GV for Gmail because the call quality is poor and we live having cordless home phones everywhere to use normally, without having to boot a computer up. That, and the fact that our VOIP is dirt cheap has convinced us to stick with a slightly more traditional system of telephony, at least for now. However, we have used GV to place calls- the GV number rings your phone, you pick up, and the number you called rings. If you do this, then your GV number DOES show up on caller ID. I have had to do this when calling my older relatives to reinforce the idea that our GV number is THE number. I also do this if I'm calling anyone that I might want to be able to block in the future.
posted by Leta at 8:51 PM on September 17, 2011

Use it when you know you'll be on hold for a while.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:03 AM on September 18, 2011

I have an iPhone and a Google Voice number. Can you clear up a few things for me? ...How do I answer incoming calls on my Mac?

Go to the Google Voice web page and click on the settings icon in the upper right corner of the page.

Add "Google Chat" as one of your phones.

Keep either the Gmail or Google+ webpage open in your browser.

Incoming calls will ring to your browser, and you can answer them there.
posted by zippy at 12:59 AM on September 18, 2011

Just correcting/clarifying a few answers here:

The Google voice phone number is the only number you need. You can have it so that it's the only number you give out to people, and it's the only number people ever see you calling or texting from, no matter how you call - mobile phone, landline, or computer.

It's a bit confusing because you have to go beyond the default to make this happen, and Google voice didn't initially have apps to make this easier so some oldschool users don't know about these options.

1. If you want to send a text from your phone using your Google voice phone number, you must use a Google voice interface. If you're on the computer, you can use a browser extension, the Google voice web interface, or the Google talk interface within gmail. If you have an iPhone, this means you have to use WiFi unless your phone is unlocked. (I'm not 100% sure about android, but I believe you can use the Google voice app even when you're connected over the phone).

2. If you want to call out and have the correct caller ID show up, you can use any of the previously mentioned Google voice interfaces as well.

However, you can also call out from any phone -- smart phone, home phone, or whatever -- and have your Google voice number show up on the recipient's caller ID. On your home phone, you need to remember to dial a specific sequence, but on a mobile phone, you can just set up your contacts so that it automatically phones your contacts via Google voice every time. Instructions here.

As far as making it easier to send/receive texts and calls on my mac, I sometimes use Fluid to make gmail stay open in my menu bar. I redirect calls to Google talk, and using Fluid helps me always find the call in time to answer it, because otherwise I've got a ton of tabs open, usually in two different browsers, and it's a pain to remember to keep gmail up and to find the one that's ringing in time.

I usually use the Google voice app in Chrome to see my messages and missed calls, but you could always make another Fluid app for Google voice too. I like how the Chrome app notifies me, though.
posted by lesli212 at 6:03 AM on September 18, 2011

There is a program called GrowlVoice, available on the Mac app store, which can be part of a solution for you. It lives in your menu bar and allows you to see/reply to google voice text messages, as well as place calls via google voice's callback interface. That means that you tell it "call Bob on my home phone", and it tells Google to call both Bob and your home phone and to connect the two calls; Bob will see the call as coming from your Google Voice number. This works great for me as I have a home phone setup with free incoming calls, and (bonus!) placing a call through this app is easier than physically dialing the phone.

if you go the google talk route to skip the phone altogether, you could still use GrowlVoice to initiate calls and do texts, but you could probably just do all that from the GTalk interface anyways.
posted by wyzewoman at 7:04 AM on September 18, 2011

lesli212, thanks for pointing out the Chrome GV extension! I never keep Gmail open in my browser on my Mac, so the extension is super handy for me.

I do want to reiterate that if you ever receive picture messages (MMS), you will not get them (nor can you send them) with GV. So you DO need a second number -- your regular cell number -- if you need/want to be able to send and receive MMS. I only belabor the point because this has been a source of frustration for me, as my dad recently got an iPhone and has been going crazy sending MMS to everyone with pictures of everything, and I do. not. get. them. (I don't mind not getting them, I mind when he then calls and says, "Hey, did you see that awesome picture of X I sent you? You never responded!" and then I have to explain again that he can't send me pictures via text. Email is just as easy and FREE, but he doesn't get that. Sigh. Parents.)

Oh, and this:

The major problem that we have had is that when we place calls, our GV number does not show up on caller ID. You just have to educate people. I say all the time, "We have several numbers. This one is the very best one to reach us at."

will not be a problem if you make calls through the GV app on your iPhone. You don't have to do anything to set this up at all. But you have to call through the app (or use the method lesli212 references). It's even easier on an Android phone, as the GV app integrates with the OS and you can set it so that all calls use GV. Calling from the regular phone interface will just route calls through GV (which will not be the case on the iPhone).
posted by devinemissk at 11:21 AM on September 18, 2011

will not be a problem if you make calls through the GV app on your iPhone.

Seconding. I use the (Google) Voice app on Android, and the only time anyone sees my 'real' cell-phone number is on the rare occasion that I have to work around Google Voice.

If you don't want to use the app, I think you can also initiate a call from the mobile interface of the Google Voice website. When done this way, I think Google calls you and then calls the other party.
posted by zippy at 1:28 PM on September 18, 2011

I like the Google Voice app for iPhone, so that's what I'll use. But, when I'm dialing out on my iPhone using the GV app, is it really using my AT&T number (and minutes) but showing my GoogleVoice number? I'm not worried about using minutes - just trying to make sure I understand how all of this stuff works.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:56 PM on September 18, 2011

Yeah, that's basically what's happening behind the scenes. The non-app way to use GV is to call your GV number and from the voicemail system, initiate a call out to someone else. The apps just do all that background work for you. Any time you make a GV call from your mobile phone, it will use your mobile phone minutes.
posted by devinemissk at 4:01 PM on September 18, 2011

I forgot to add that a lot of people will add their GV number to an unlimited "friends and family" plan (not sure if AT&T has that), so that calls via GV don't use up their minutes. So that's an option if you'd like to minimize how many minutes you use.
posted by devinemissk at 4:07 PM on September 18, 2011

I would love to meet whoever at Google is in charge of Google Voice and ask what the heck they were thinking. Google Voice seems pretty amazing, and yet, some aspects of it make no sense whatsoever.

For example, there's an official Google Voice web app at It can send and receive texts, but it can't send or receive calls. There's also the gmail web mail app. Y'know... email, which has nothing to do with a phone call or text, but this is the web app that Google has given the ability to send and receive Google Voice calls. What the heck?
posted by 2oh1 at 1:27 PM on September 24, 2011

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