Google Voice: The ultimate Android how-to

Google Voice: The ultimate Android how-to

Summary: In this article, we look at how you can use Google Voice from your Android device, how you can display your Google Voice number as your Caller ID, and how you can make minutes-free Google Voice VoIP calls via WiFi.


All projects: DIY-IT Project Guide
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.

The basics: the Google Voice Android app

There are some very tangible benefits to using Google Voice on your Android phone. The first is that you get free text messages. You can send and receive as many text messages as you want from your Google Voice phone number, and you won't be charged a penny.

The second benefit (and the most important to me) is that you can make outgoing calls from Google Voice, and when you do, the Caller ID seen by the person you're calling is your Google Voice number, not your mobile number. I don't like giving out my cell phone number. I'd much rather people have one number they can reach me at, regardless of what phone it's attached to.

Incoming calls have a benefit as well. I like how I can use Google Voice to sculpt which calls I get, and when. Since callers will be calling you on your Google Voice number, you can use all of those wonderful Google Voice features to determine who gets through and when.

Finally, you can use Google Voice to set your answering message. In that way, regardless of whether someone rings through to your phone or not, they'll get your Google Voice answering message. In fact, you can use Google Voice to set a general answering message, and then specific ones for specific numbers. 

Using Google Voice on your Kindle Fire HD

As you know, the Kindle Fire is based on Android. Unfortunately, the Google Play store is not available to Kindle Fire HD users which means that the core Google apps, including Google Voice, are also not available.

Fear not, however. If you use a Kindle Fire HD or HDX and you want to use Google Voice, we have a solution for you: a 99-cent app called Spare Phone. Unfortunately, the Amazon Appstore for Android says that Spare Phone won't work with the original Kindle Fire, but I guess you can't have everything.

To set it up, you'll need to head on over to the Amazon Appstore and buy the product. There doesn't appear to be a demo version. Once it downloads to your device, you'll need to set it up.

First, enter your Google Voice account username. Next, you'll need to enter your password. If you use 2-factor authentication with your Google Voice account, you'll need to go to the 2-factor section of the Google account page and get a one-time application-specific password, which you'll enter in the password field.

You'll also need to make sure that Google Chat is set up as one of your forwarding destinations for Google Voice. Now, here's an interesting issue. Google is ending support of the XMPP messaging standard, which Spare Phone likely uses. That means that while it works now, it may stop working in May of 2014, unless the developer figures out a work-around. Even so, for a buck, it's a very slick (if possibly temporary) solution.

Another Kindle solution is Talkatone, which also relies on the XMPP interface. Talkatone is working on building out their own Google Voice substitute solution. Calls won't be free (about a buck an hour), but it's a way of getting your phone and your Kindle, too.

Next up: more Android goodness...

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Topics: Google, Mobility, Telcos, Unified Comms, AT&T, Verizon, DIY


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • I use it fulltime on samdung S4

    1 more little bug, let's say you call a bank and get the automated phone tree, they don't ever seem to be able to get the number you press, you need to use the native cell number when doing this type of thing.

    Still though, sure beats paying the $100/mo to att and getting both numbers on my free to me work cell.
  • Outside USA?

    What of you are not in the United States, like in Africa or Asia; any solution?
  • Kindle Fire...

    Spare Phone and Google Voice won't work on a Kindle Fire because it has no microphone! That was one of the hardware improvements in the Fire HD.

    My biggest complaint with Google Voice on my old Galaxy S2 and on my new LG G-Flex is the time delay in the conversation audio. It makes having an interactive conversation very difficult. I have enough trouble with the delays in regular cell phones but using Voice is even worse. Still, it's useful and I do use it.
  • Why is the Android version inferior to the iPhone one?

    I've used this app a long time on the iPhone and Web.

    Recent switched to Android and it's so crappy. No control. On iPhone, if you wanted to call out with your secondary (GV) number, you just loaded the app and you could choose to dial or text out using the number. On Android you have to set it to ask you before every single call you make (just in normal phone use), or none at all!!! No manual control! Such poor design. I like the bigger screen on Android, but in terms of ingenuity, iPhone is light years ahead. Don't even get me started on how Android has virtually no alert/reminder system. So weird... . TOO bare bones.