Google Voice has gotten all the press, but there are a number of services that allow you to forward calls to different phones and transcribe voice mails. Others can even serve as a virtual phone system for small businesses.
Let’s look at a few.
Formerly called GrandCentral, Google Voice is the most well known. Google Voice lets you have one number that you can hand out, and when people call it, it will ring your other phones — your office, home or mobilephone. But what’s especially powerful is you can set it so when certain people call it will ring the phone you want (so, when your family calls it rings your mobilephone, while unknown callers are forwarded to your office phone), or ring different phones based on the day of the week. And it does this all for free, but it is still invitation-only.
Google Voice transcribes your voice mails, so you can read them when you want and store them for reference later. Its SMS features are quite powerful, too. SMSs sent to your Google Voice number are forwarded to your mobile phone, so you can reply to them like normal. But they also show up in the Google Voice interface, so you can view and reply to them from the web.
Google Voice is a great option for individuals who want a better way to handle multiple phones and to store their voice mails and SMS messages, but it doesn’t have features that serve businesses.
3Jam is a simple service like Google Voice. It lets you have one phone number that you can hand out to people, and when they call, it’s forwarded to any of your other phones, including Skype. It transcribes voice mail messages for you, and you can reply to SMS messages from within the web interface.
3Jam provides decent features, but its pricing are unreasonable. $4.99/month gets you only 50 minutes of forwarded calls, and 40 outgoing text messages. That’s a lot to pay for something Google is offering for free.
ViaTalk is a bit different. ViaTalk is a monthly (or yearly) service which is aimed at people with home phones. They supply their own phones, and the service. The service has similar features to Google Voice and 3Jam; you can check your voice mail online or by email, ring 2 different numbers when you receive a call, record calls, forward your phone number to SIP software, and block calls from specific numbers.
But it also does things they don’t, due to its focus on home phones. ViaTalk gives you 2 separate phone lines, will make reminder calls for either one-off or recurring events (like a wake-up call in hotels), or require “authentication” from anonymous callers.
It’s an interesting service, especially if you need a home phone line. The yearly service is $189 ($15.75 a month), and includes unlimited minutes.
Grasshopper isn’t so much a competitor to Google Voice as a competitor to PBX phone systems. It is a web service that allows small businesses to set up departments and extensions for their employees, and forwards the calls to their different phones. Grasshopper users can purchase toll-free 800 numbers for $15. It also has unlimited call handling, so even if you’re receiving a deluge of calls, callers won’t hear a busy signal. This makes the business feel much more professional to anyone calling, and it’s managed through Grasshopper’s web interface, rather than a complicated and expensive hardware system.
Grasshopper also delivers voice mails and faxes via email, but unlike Google Voice and other services, Grasshopper sends voice mails as audio files rather than transcribe them.
The pricing of this service is a monthly plan based on how many minutes you use per month. Unfortunately, Grasshopper’s jump from a very limited 100 minute $9.95/month plan to a 2000 minute $49 plan, with no options in-between, is rather steep.
RingCentral is similar to Grasshopper, but provides some additional features. It has toll free and local numbers, call forwarding and voice mail support like Grasshopper. In addition to the virtual phone system features, RingCentral gives users a dial-by-name directory, which makes it much easier for callers to find the person they need to talk to.
RingCentral’s monthly plans provide more for the price than Grasshopper. RingCentral’s $49.99/month plan offers unlimited calling and faxing, as compared to Grasshopper’s 2000 minutes.
The internet has provided so many options in the area of phone calls and voicemail. Take some time to be sure that what you are currently using — and paying for — fits your needs and the needs of your business.