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Google Voice and Sprint integration: Hands-on review

We spent some quality time with Google Voice on a Sprint phone, and now we're ready to talk about it. Here are the highs and lows of Google's new partnership with Sprint.

Prompt to enable Google Voice with your Sprint number
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

It's been about two weeks now since Google and Sprint threw open the doors of a partnership they jointly announced at CTIA, a quick and easy way to integrate Google Voice's extensive calling extras on almost all Sprint phones. These extras include visual-voice mail that you can read on the phone or online, personalized greetings, and cheaper international calls. We've spent some time using the conjoined service, and integrating, disabling, and reintegrating it. So far our in-house experience has been pretty good.

Assuming you've got a Google Voice account already, there are two paths for merging services from the Google Voice inbox. First, you can turn your existing Sprint number into the Google Voice number, so that you hold on to the 10 digits associated with the handset. You can easily disable the integration in the online Google Voice settings, which will reinstate your original Google Voice number in addition to taking Google Voice overrides (like for voice mail) off the phone. (Here's a video tutorial from CTIA to walk you through it.)

The second approach folds your Sprint number into your existing Google Voice number, so that every time you make or accept a call from your Sprint phone, you're dialing out and receiving the call using the Google Voice number.

We used both integration methods on the Nexus S 4G without any incident. It isn't exactly a snap, since set-up does take a little time, and new users do have to create a Google Voice account first, which adds to the process. However, integration was seamless and Google provided enough links and directions to answer common questions and walk us through the steps. We experienced no interruptions in voice, text, or voice mail service (Google Voice assumes responsibility for this as well) once we got the go-ahead that the integration was complete.

However, there were a few digital hiccups the first time we tried listening to our voice messages through the phone's voice mail shortcut. It ironed out after we exited the voice mail program and opened it again.

International calling was refreshingly smooth. With Google Checkout brimming with credit, we were able to directly dial overseas from the phone. Before the call began, an automated voice alerts you how much your call will cost per minute. It was as simple as dialing and hanging up, with good call quality during our tests. Just one note: if you don't hear the cost message before the international call connects, your Google Voice and Sprint accounts aren't correctly merged and you'll be charged Sprint's full tariff if you go through with the voice transaction.

Although our experience with a combined Google Voice and Sprint has so far been mostly hitch-free, that hasn't been the case for everyone since the free service launched. Some people noticed problems when changing their Sprint plans. Google is working on a permanent fix for this issue and has a workaround in place. Others noticed that mobile-to-mobile calling didn't go as expected for those who took the second approach of using their Google Voice number as their primary number. Google addressed both those issues and more on its site and in a Q&A interview with CNET.

Customer service is the one sticking point if you do experience a problem. Google has plenty of self-service help articles and there are forums moderated by Google employees, but there's no e-mail address or customer service line to dial if there's an issue, and Google will direct you to Sprint if your issue has to do with billing or with your voice service in general. On Sprint's end, it seems not all Sprint customer service reps are equally trained on the ins and outs of Google Voice, at least not yet.

Final thoughts
If you're looking for some extra services surrounding your voice plan and aren't afraid of a little setup without human help, Google's free Google Voice integration is a great option thanks to its practical perks and personalization goodies. However, there is some risk at this stage, since Google and Sprint don't have all the kinks worked out and will likely stumble over some more along the way.

In addition, there are a few potholes that might affect you, like having fellow Sprint callers miss out on mobile-to-mobile minutes when they call you (this could throw a wrench in a family plan, for instance.) New users who aren't familiar with Google Voice may also find they run into other unexpected behavior that takes some getting used to. Although it's undoubtedly easier for existing Google Voice users to get on board with this melded offering, it's one that can benefit many, so long as they're not afraid of getting their feet wet.