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How Google Voice got me out of a bind

For this editor, a broken cell phone plus Google Voice adds up to a quick, smart way out of a communications dead zone.

Google Voice logo

I've had my fun in the recent past pointing out holes in Google Voice, particularly when it comes to its humorously terrible computer-aided transcription. Yet it's high time for an anecdote that paints a more flattering portrait of Google's free call-forwarding and visual voice mail service.

Last weekend the screen on the cell phone I primarily use for personal calls inexplicably imploded, leaving behind a staticy and illegible display. To make matters worse, I was traveling, couldn't access my address book, and had complicated plans I needed to coordinate with multiple people. Luckily, I could still receive voice messages, thanks to a Google Voice voice mail-forwarding feature I had set up last October.

I still haven't resolved my phone issue, leaving me phoneless for over a week--but not unreachable. I overcame my reluctance to passing out too many numbers--an easy ditch to tumble into in this line of work--and sent my Google Voice number to some family and friends. I then set up call forwarding to a number of phones I use for testing apps, including the Android-powered HTC Evo. When someone dials my Google Voice number, any powered-on phone will ring. 

Our reader's message about picking up her son from preschool. Click to enlarge. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

There's a benefit to using Google Voice on an Android phone like the Evo or HTC Droid Incredible. Since Google services are tightly integrated with the mobile operating system, it takes little time to set Google Voice as the phone's primary voice mail box. With a tap, I can access my Google Voice visual voice mail, even reading (still terrible) transcriptions where available, which isn't always the case. More importantly, I can quickly listen to a message and respond with a call or SMS.

I'm still not convinced I should permanently switch to Google Voice on my personal phone, particularly because you can't yet port over your current phone number. I'm still resisting the long, sometimes painful transition of changing to a new number. However, I am feeling grateful that Google Voice provided an instantaneous and relatively painless solution when my personal phone bit the dust.

Of course, Google Voice was only as reliable a fallback as it was because I had already set it up. Moreover, I conveniently had an Android smartphone at my disposal, which made the process easier than if I were starting fresh. Google's Voice service isn't only limited to smartphones, though. It's also valuable for feature phones, especially if you hand Google the reins to your voice mail messages and start receiving alerts online or as a text or e-mail message. Even if you lose your phone, you'll still be able to access voice messages from your browser, and can slowly add your phone contacts to the greater address book that's tied to your Google account.

My next task: finding a sturdier phone.