Updated 10/28/09 at 11 a.m. PT with a tip about checking voice mail from your cell phone.
On Tuesday, Google took another step toward bringing Google Voice to the masses, fulfilling the wishes of those who are curious enough to try Google's brand of visual voice mail, but either too jealous of their mobile number to give it up for a Google Voice number, or too weary to go through the hassle of training family and friends on a new number.
Google now lets you access some key features in the Google Voice service using the number you've always had, and no longer forces you to sign up for a new Google Voice phone number. How? Google Voice can now take advantage of what's called conditional call forwarding. I tried out the new feature today with success, and have some tips to share.
With Google Voice in charge of your missed calls, callers are directed to your Google Voice in-box instead of to the voice mail box that your carrier operates. There, friends can leave a message after hearing the greeting you recorded online. You, for your part, can listen to messages online or from your phone, in any order you'd like.
As promised, setup was easy for this existing Google Voice user. In the Settings menu, under the Phone tab, click "Activate Google voice mail for this phone" next to any phone that you've associated with your account. Then, select your carrier (U.S.-only for now) and dial the string of numbers and symbols you see into your phone. Then dial the number. This sets up call forwarding. While many high-end feature phones and smartphones do have separate menu settings for call forwarding, Google's method of entering the forwarding code is faster and removes the guesswork.
New users have slightly more setup involved. You'll first choose if you want to use your own number or sign up for a new Google Voice account. Then you'll need to enter your Google Account credentials or register an account before setting up your phone.
Using the conditional forwarding service is brainless; whomever calls you hears your Google Voice recording, which you can set up online. You may want to tinker in the settings to forward calls straight to voice mail, or else you could annoy callers with a full ring-through to your mobile voice mail and another ring through to the recorded number. However, leave the setting in its default mode and friends may be able to track you down on other numbers associated with your Google Voice number, if you use Google's number and not your own mobile number.
To send a call straight to voice mail, go to the Phone tab in the Settings menu of your online Google Voice account. Click Edit, then click to see advanced settings. At the bottom is a call-forwarding option that you can switch to send straight to your recording.
If you use the call forwarding option from your cell phone, checking voice mail isn't entirely straightforward. If you're forwarding to a Google Voice number, you'll need to dial your new phone number from your handset in order to get to your in-box options. This is because Google now presides over your messages, not your carrier. Google provides a separate access number for those using their own mobile numbers to access Google's visual voice mail, which you'll get when you sign up for an account.… Read more