Google Voice for iPhone Hands-On: Better Than Nothing, But Android is Better

Finally, Google Voice has come to the iPhone. After more than a year of tears, gnashing of teeth, and snarky recriminations. The app has already garnered over 1,200 ratings in the App Store and the consensus is decidedly meh — just 3 stars. After spending time with the app, I have to agree. It has some great features, but the Android experience is far superior.

After downloading, I signed into the app with my Google account and on the next screen it prompted me to “Select an existing number,” meaning one of the phones already connected to my Voice account. Nowhere does the app inform me that I need to go to my account settings via the website, add my phone, then confirm it before it shows up on this list.

Once we actually did all the right steps in order, Google Voice worked fine. It downloaded our existing texts and voicemails and integrated with the iPhone’s contacts (but not the ones from our Google account).

Google Voice isn’t as deeply intertwined with the iPhone OS as it can be with Android phones. This makes sense, but it also makes the experience of using it a little less intuitive and natural. With Android, we can initiate a call with the normal dialer and then, depending on your settings, the phone will automatically use GV to make it or offer you the option. On the iPhone I had to use a dialer within the app to make calls. It switches over to the normal dialer once you tap Call, but if it doesn’t go through for some reason, you don’t get automatically shifted back to GV;  you stay in the normal dialer.

Despite what your screen shows, the caller ID information that shows up when you call people is your own Google Voice number, not the routing number it goes through before getting to your recipient. For incoming calls/voicemails and texts the app offers push notifications.

Receiving calls is just the same as on any other phone you’ve connected to the account. When you answer (if you’ve left this setting on), the system will give you the option of answering or sending to voicemail, and you can listen in as people leave a message. Google Voice tries valiantly to transcribe voicemails to text whenever a caller leaves one, but the result is just as hit or miss as on Android phones. Still, these transciptions often offer a gist of who called and what they wanted. Just as with Android, you can play the voice messages in the app just like visual voicemail.

The Google Voice for iPhone app’s interface and choices aren’t as robust as the Android version. For instance, when you press and hold on a message in your Inbox, you’re only given the option to delete, mark as read/unread, or archive the message. On Android you can also call or text the person who sent the message and see their full contact information, or star the message or mark it as spam.

So, was Google Voice worth the wait (or the hype)? If you already love the service, the app does add in the most important functionality Android users have been enjoying for over a year: being able to make calls with your GV number as well as receive them. And being able to manage texts and voicemails from the app means that you can finally give out just your GV number. However, we wish the app integrated more with the iPhone’s OS for a truly seamless experience–and we don’t see that happening anytime soon.


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