Google Voice: The ultimate how-to guide

Google Voice: The ultimate how-to guide

Summary: In this article, and the dozen or so that follow it, you'll learn just about everything you need to know to get the most out of the Google Voice service.


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 follow, 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.

What is Google Voice?

Let's get started with a quick overview of the service itself. Google Voice provides a number of unique features that will transform how you receive and make phone calls and text messages.

The Google Voice number

To me, the single most valuable feature of Google Voice is its ability to separate your phone number from your phone service. This is a big step beyond number portability, and here's why.

With Google Voice, you can choose your own, unique Google Voice telephone number that's linked to your Google account. Calls that come into that number can be routed to any number of phones, regardless of their service providers.

When a call comes into your Google Voice number, it can be routed to your cell phone, your office phone, perhaps your Skype phone number, and more. If you're staying at a friend's house for a while, you can route the Google Voice number to your friend's home line. If it's time for you to upgrade your mobile phone and you get a new number, you can then route your Google Voice number to that new number.

No matter where you physically get your calls, you just need to give out that one Google Voice number. In future articles, I'll explain why that was so important to me.

By the way, the Google Voice number applies to SMS messages as well. Just give out one number and your texts will find you at the destinations you specify to the Google Voice dashboard. Very sweet.

Filtering and screening of incoming calls

Google Voice allows you to filter incoming calls, much like you'd set up rules and filters in your email.

Do you get regular solicitation calls from scammers and spammers? Just block their numbers. Do you get calls from that old boyfriend or girlfriend you'd rather not talk to again? Just send their calls to voicemail. Do you want your current love interest to get a very special voicemail message when he or she calls? Just record and assign a message to one, specific number.

The filtering in Google Voice has substantially reduced the number of junk calls we get here at Camp David, and has made it possible to manage the incoming call flow far better than we were ever able to do before.

Google Voice also offers call screening, where a caller must introduce himself or herself before the call is put through to you. That way, you have an even better way of knowing who you're going to be talking to before you pick up your phone.

Voicemail, transcription, and email

As I mentioned before, Google Voice offers the ability to record individual voicemail messages and filter calls to voicemail. You can set up Google Voice to send your messages to your email account as well.

Google Voice will also transcribe your voicemail messages and send the transcribed message to your email account. There's one thing you need to know about Google Voice transcription: it's not that good. As a result, while you'll generally get an idea of what the call is about, sometimes the transcriptions add in a level of hilarity not originally intended by the caller.

When it comes to Google Voice, all your base do belong to us.

Call recording

Google Voice has an odd little feature that allows you to record your call. Originally, this wasn't optional and all callers would occasionally hear "Call Recording On."

I do a lot of government-related work, and there's nothing more disconcerting than hearing "Call Recording On" and then trying to explain to the party on the other end that it's just Google listening in, not the NSA.

While it can be a useful feature, it's not the most reliable. Fortunately, you can turn it off.

Free calling and texting

A few years ago, this was the big draw of Google Voice, at least in the U.S. With Google Voice, you can place calls and send texts to phone numbers using the Google Voice network and not have to pay any charges.

Back when voice calling and texting services were metered, that was a big thing. Now that most of us have all-you-can-eat calling and texting plans, this isn't nearly as important a feature as it was back in the day.

How to get Google Voice

Getting a Google Voice account is very simple. First, you need a Google Account. This could be your existing Gmail account, but I actually recommend you create a completely separate account for your Google Voice activity. I'll tell you more about why in later articles.

Once you have your Google account, go to and you'll be given the opportunity to pick your Google Voice number and bind it to your smartphone. I'm not going to go into detail about setting up a new Google Voice number, because that's well documented on the Google site. Instead, the articles in this series will help you maximize your use of Google Voice.

In fact, the next two articles in our series discuss how to port your existing phone number to Google Voice -- and whether or not it's a good idea to do so.

Our updated 2014 Google Voice guide

All of these topics and more will be discussed in depth in the other articles in the series. Be sure to visit each article. You'll be amazed at what you can do with this powerful service.

Next in our series: Google Voice: Just because you can port your number, should you?

I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz anGoogle Voice: Just because you can port your number, should you?d on Facebook at

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.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Sounds Wonderful!

    Now, if those of us outside of North America could get it ...
    • It's not even North America, it's just the US :-|

      It's not even North America, it's just the US :-|
  • The Google Voice phone number aspect is USA only.

    The best we get in The UK in Google Voice is the ability to make landline/mobile calls from Gmail, just like you can make Skype.
  • Mind translating this into english?

    "When it comes to Google Voice, all your base do belong to us."
    • Google it
  • One limitation, a question and some experience.

    The limitation. You can't send pictures through Google Voice SMS.

    The question. Ho do you turn that call recording feature off??

    I use a Google Voice Number for my business. It is a number that is both local to where I do business and has a meaningful keypad to letter conversion.
    If I ever get out of business I plan for the number (and the associated GMail address) to go with the business at which time I will get a new GMail/Google Voice account and port my personal number (which also has a special meaning) of now, over 25 years, to it for my wandering retirement.

    You can make good quality internet phone calls through your computer so if you are at your computer and expecting an urgent personal call you can set up to take and make calls for business through the computer.
    • Re: One limitation, a question and some experience.

      I thought that the SMS/picture stuff was coming with the Google Voice/Hangouts integration....maybe I misunderstood that though...

      To shut off the call recording feature, you can go Settings (the gear)->Calls->uncheck the "Call Options" box (shuts off the call recording, and other features.

      When I was on Sprint I would periodically have the recording flip on as my phone would bounce between towers. I should turn that back on since I switched to AT&T. I had to kick Sprint to the curb last month to poor service, customer service, voice mails being lost due to system wide failures this year.

      Google voice was a powerful option to move me to a more open playing field with the phone carriers for me. I paid to have my mobile number ported to google voice, bought unlocked phones that would work with multiple carriers. I got a new numbers from the carriers that I did not share with anyone. One carrier ticks me off, I start service with another carrier (GSM or CDMA for the phones I got) and in five minutes I can be up and going without any real pain or disruption. Frankly....this is the way it should be. Thanks Google!
      • Re: One limitation, a question and some experience.

        I believe that you are right. I believe the date is May 15 but that will also break a lot of valuable apps which use Google Voice as Google is changing the protocal used from an open one to a proprietary one. I use GrooveIP to receive incoming calls on my cell phone over Wifi and Google voice. I no longer pay a carrier fee. I just use VOIP free with Google Voice but GrooveIP is close May 15th because of Google's change.
        Tim Jordan
  • So now ZD Net does ads as "articles"?

    I thought this was a tech news site, not a support site.
  • Can't use it, not in the USA

    Google has been bloviating about Voice for years, but serve it to far too little of their customer base.
  • Where's the definition?

    When I reached the heading "What is Google Voice," naturally I expected to find a definition. But instead of learning what it is, I was led into a discussion of what it does. Come on, David. It can't be that hard to write something like, "Google Voice is a set of services that use a virtual phone number to let you do manage and conduct voice calls that would otherwise be costly, difficult, or impossible."
    • Re; Where's the definition?

      Does telling a person that a service with a name, in this case Google Voice, is actually a "a set of services" provide clarity? How? It tells me something but clarifies nothing.

      Furthermore, since a Google Voice number can be ported to your landline or cell phone, IMO it is more than a virtual number. It can be used as both a 'real' or a virtual number.

      And unless I am a person who implicitly trusts everything I read, what does telling me that Google Voice allows me "manage and conduct voice calls that would otherwise be costly, difficult, or impossible" accomplish? How exactly does it do this and why would it be costly, difficult, or impossible?

      IMO, Google Voice is much too complicated to be defined in one or two paragraphs. And I believe that is exactly why the author chose to use several brief examples of the services Google Voice provides to use as a simplified definition of Google Voice. Keeping in mind the purpose and the target audience of this diy guide, I believe he chose wisely.
      • You're right

        I agree that my definition left much to be desired. My point was simply that the heading promised a definition, then failed to deliver.
  • It makes a great second line on a cell phone

    If you do business on a cell phone and you need a separate number so as to differentiate calls to your cell phone versus calls to another line, this is a great second line. And it is free. You can also answer on your computer, use it for simple sms and more. I actually have two clients I take their customer calls for. I use Google Voice and Line2 to accomplish it. So that's three different lines on one phone at the same time. Of course Line2 costs money, but Google Voice does not.
  • I have a Obi Voip box using google voice and as I was recommending

    it to a relative for getting a free "landline". I then learned that google was discontinuing the XMPP protocol so we can't use it anymore as of May, I think.
    I remembered hearing about the XMPP thing, but never realized it would break our phone. I've been using it for a few years, and basically forgot about it. We really don't use the home phone much. There are other options though, including one that is apparently free + 0.80 cents/mo for 911 service.
    • Later articles

      I'll talk about this at length in later articles. Stay tuned.
      David Gewirtz
  • Buggy service and no tech support

    I've used this for my home number for a few years. It works ok at best. The trouble is it will sometimes send you a call, then there's no one there when you answer, and the service will repeatedly call you over, and over, and over, trying to connect. One night we had to unplug our phone to go to sleep. It also regularly transfers a call and then I can't hear the caller or the caller can't hear me. When this happens, who do you call to fix it? We still use it because we get few calls at home and mostly use mobile.

    It's a good free service, but I'd be willing to pay a few dollars per month to have the same thing without the bugs and with some tech support.
    • I guess I have been lucky

      I believe I have been using this service for over 4 years, and I think I have had like less than a half dozen issues that I attributed to Google Voice and those were in the early days. I have shot my foot off a few times though when playing around.....the quote "with great power comes great responsibility" come to mind with my own errors.

      I guess I fit their typical use case though.
  • Been using it for years

    When I work from home, I use Google Voice to connect to the office because I run a Mac and the corporate VoIP is only Windows based. Great sound quality, even better than our corporate solution. I also use Voice as my single phone contact number and have it ring all my phones.
    Rann Xeroxx
  • Google Voice for Clubs

    This is very important feature for clubs. Our club had a hotline number for club activities for 20+ years. We paid in excess of $25/mo for an answering machine. With Google Voice, we ported our number to Google, setup the "Do not disturb" answering machine and we set a voice message. Now if someone leave a message, I get it in my in box, I can decide if it needs a reply. We don't do this, but it could ring every club officer's phone at once. Our cost is now $0.
    Another rocket club has to fly out in a dessert. They have to leave a contact number with the FAA every time they get permits to fly. They rent a satellite phone during the launch windows. Now they can leave the FAA with the Google voice number. Have Google Voice ring the current Sat phone rental and never have to mess with the FAA for changes in numbers.