Google Voice: The SMS guide

Summary:Here's how to get the most out of sending and receiving text messages with Google Voice.

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This project: The Ultimate Google Voice How-to Guide (2014 Edition)

Welcome to the 2014 edition of the Ultimate Google Voice How-To Guide, presented by ZDNet's DIY-IT blog. In this article, and the baker's dozen that accompany it, you'll learn just about everything you need to know to get the most out of the Google Voice service. This guide contains a complete end-to-end update of our 2011 Google Voice guide, chock full of new ideas, completely new articles, and amazing tips.

You'll learn how to port your landline to Google Voice, how to set up phone handsets, how to integrate Google Voice into your iPhone and Android experience, how to set up a multi-line office, how to get the most out of using Google Voice and SMS, and even how to use Google Voice effectively and safely in your car, and lots more.

So brew up a cup of coffee or your favorite tea, grab a few snacks, and prepare to discover how plain 'ol phone calls are about to be transformed into something virtually indistinguishable from magic.

This article assumes you've already got a working Google Voice account and it's linked to your phone. If you don't, please read the earlier articles in this series. We are also aware of the rumors that Google may end-of-life Google Voice or migrate its functionality more fully into Hangouts and, if that happens, we'll update this series with all your best options.

While Google Voice is an amazingly useful tool, its SMS implementation could be considered "beta" at best. It mostly works, and I constantly rely upon it, but it's not without its quirks and warts.

In this article, I'll help you get the most out of sending and receiving text messages with Google Voice.

The MMS limitation

But first, let's start with the limitation I've mentioned in other articles, just to get it out of the way: There's no multimedia messaging with Google Voice.

If you want to send a picture or any other form of MMS message, Google Voice will simply ignore it (and not bother to tell either the sender or the recipient). The only way around that is to use your phone's native messaging app for multimedia and Google Voice for the rest.

From my perspective, there are so many other ways now to share pictures, from Facebook to Instagram to email to even Dropbox, that I just ignore MMS. It seems to work. I've never felt the lack of that feature in three years of constant use of the service.

My requirements for SMS

Now that we've gotten the bad news out of the way, let's look at setting up SMS on your devices. My requirements for SMS included being able to send outgoing SMS messages with the reply number being my Google Voice number (or, at least, if someone hits reply, it goes back to me).

Another requirement was the ability to receive SMS messages more or less in real-time, as they were sent. I didn't want to wait ten or fifteen minutes for them to be scooped up.

I also wanted a pop-up notification of some kind, because I didn't want to have to load the program to see if someone reached out to me via a text message.

Finally, I wanted to be able to see my incoming SMS messages in my email and reply from my main email box. This last requirement is the subject of its own article. Just click on over to Google Voice: beyond Gmail. Get voicemail and texts using any email client you want to get the answers.

SMS on the desktop

More great project ideas

DIY-IT Project Guide

You would think, with the big push Google is making towards Hangouts, that you could SMS via Hangouts. So far, that's a big negatory. We're hearing rumblings of some sort of integration, but at least as of early 2014, no such luck.

That means you can't use the Hangouts system tray utility in Windows to send and receive SMS messages from the desktop. In fact, I downloaded a relatively large number of Google Voice notification and messaging utilities for Windows and was unable to get any of them to work.

On the other hand, if you're a Mac user, there's a slick little utility called GrowlVoice that installs onto your menu bar and lets you respond to Google Voice messages without having your browser open.

This is important, because while you could always point your browser to, there can be issues if you're logged into one Google account, but want to text using another Google account. GrowlVoice gets around that completely.

Google also offers a Chrome browser extension that allows you to select the account you use, but rather than selecting an account specifically, it references the accounts you're signed into via the multiple accounts features of Google. I've found this to be unreliable, and as a result, I wouldn't trust this extension to send or manage texts from the appropriate account. Your mileage may vary.

Next up: Google Voice SMS on your smartphone

I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at

Topics: Google, Mobility, Networking, SMBs, Telcos


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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