Google Voice: The SMS guide

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

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

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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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  • mms

    google voice does support MMS for at least a year now. i was surprised when i received my 1st one in april 2013. it's more of a work around, but the GV user will receive a text that 'MMS Received' & then the attached picture will be attached to an email in your inbox.
  • mms

    google voice does support MMS for at least a year now. i was surprised when i received my 1st one in april 2013. it's more of a work around, but the GV user will receive a text that 'MMS Received' & then the attached picture will be attached to an email in your inbox.
    • Really?

      Worth checking out. Thanks.
      David Gewirtz
  • MSS doesn't work for me

    And it doesn't tell me I'm going to get an email with a picture. I simply get nothing and the sender is confused that I never responded. This is why I started making Google Hangouts my default text messaging software. Eventually Google will roll Voice into Hangouts - hopefully, not killing the cool features of Voice in the process.
  • You Might Want to Revise This Articule

    First off, you should change the title to say "Google Voice: The SMS/MMS guide"

    I have found that there is a work around to using your Goggle Voice number with your cellular smartphone and be able to send MMS messages, even when your service provider isn't Sprint or T-Mobile.

    This requires that you first download and install the app GoSMS Pro to your smartphone, then set this app as your default for sending text messages. Also download and install the Google Voice app to your smartphone as well. Link this to your Gogle Account that your Google Voice number was created with.

    Now, open up the Google Voice app, and use it to send another cellular phone a simple SMS message. Once you get a response from that phone, it'll show up as belonging another phone number. Link this new number (GV-number) to the same contact of the original number you sent your SMS message to.

    Now, open up the GoSMS Pro app, and create a MMS message to that GV-number. When adding any picture to the message, you should select the "BigMMS" option. Once your MMS message is ready to be sent, click the send button.

    The recipient will get a SMS message showing any text you typed, plus a ling to view/download the pictures of the MMS message you sent them. Also, if the recipient happens to also have the GoSMS Pro app installed on their phone, the MMS message you sent will show up in their GoSMS Pro app exactly as you sent it from your GoSMS Pro app.

    With this setup, you can now send both SMS and MMS messages using your Goggle Voice number with your cellular smartphone. :)

  • Addendum to Previous Post

    Note also, that messages you send using your Goggle Voice number have to be no longer than the standard character limit for a SMS message (which I believe is a max of 160 characters, though don't quote me on this number). Otherwise the message will not be transmitted and received by the recipient.

    This is because a lot of SMS text message apps (like Google Voice), if not all of them, will automatically treat your SMS message like a MMS message if it goes over the 160 character limit.

    Thus, if your message is above the character limit, just break the message up into multiple messages.
  • No SMS problems here

    I'm really not sure where all of your SMS issues were coming from, as I've had virtually zero problems in 3 years of using GV as my main phone number. The GV app on Android gives me instant notifications, the app on my iPad gives me instant notifications, and the Chrome plugin, while a bit of a hassle to set up, gives me NEAR instant notifications. (It's usually a few seconds after I hear my phone and iPad ding simultaneously.)

    If you're trying to use the whole "have google forward texts to your "real" number" thing that might be causing some of the problems maybe? I've had that shut off since practically day one.
    • I am facing the problem

      I am facing the problem to getting the sms on my mobile phone
      we have a android phone and google number and also installed the G+
  • Phone service NOT required to send texts from iPad, iPod, etc.

    RE: If you're using an iPad, iPod touch, or an carrier-less old iPhone, you can receive SMS messages in the Google Voice app. You just can't send them

    Google voice, along with a number of 3rd party apps, uses your data/Internet connection to SEND texts. Phone service is not required for the iOS version of GV.

    Please see
  • No -TEXT- option in GV

    Help! I don't have a -TEXT- Option in Google Voice. Not on my PC (Chrome) nor on my Android smartphone. (Link to screenshot-->> What is that?
    I don't have a "TEXT" folder, either. What could be the cause of that?
  • Growlvoice stopped working

    Growlvoice doesn't work since April 2014 - Google denied access to Google voice.