Google Gives Voice

So it is probably common knowledge now that Google has unveiled the Google Voice service which is pretty groovy. I didn’t jump on the boat when most people did. I heard some buzz about it, but didn’t really know what it was and dismissed it as something that was probably related to Google Talk. After I understood the concept of getting a number for all your phones and some interesting features, all for free, I thought I might as well see what it was all about.

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The invite process was a lot less hassle then I’d guess most thought it was. I knew some people that signed up for an invite years ago when the service was still called GrandCentral. These people that requested invites years ago were just receiving them now which suggested the invite system was really backed up. I took my chances and put in for an invite. About five days later, I received an email telling me to pick up my new account. This part is easy enough. You go through the steps, the best being picking your number. Thankfully, you can search them using letters as well as numbers, so I could throw in a significant phrase and hope that it would spit back a local number. After maybe a half hour of debating, I settled on a number and was greeted by the Google Voice dashboard.

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The dashboard, as you can see in the low resolution picture above, is almost a complete clone of the Gmail dashboard. This was great news for me as I am very familiar with using Gmail, and the Google Voice dashboard behaves in the same way considering placement of settings, inbox, etc. Basically, if you have used just about any email service, you should be in good shape. From here, I edited my settings, and toyed with some of the features.

I first decided that I just wanted to link the number to my cell phone, and ignore the options for house phone and work phone. I then went through the settings one by one. I added my voicemail message, as I am mainly going to use the number for that. I skipped the recording of my name as I don’t need that quite yet. I also set up notifications to use in conjunction with the voicemail. Whenever I get a voicemail, I get emailed and my cellphone receives a text message. So now, I have the ability to know if I have a message whether or not I have internet access.

Google Voice also has many privacy features. There is a call screening option that asks callers to identify themselves. Google will also provide a variety of options for when someone calls your number. You can choose to pick up the call, let it go right to voicemail, listen in on the voicemail that is being left, and even record the entirety of the call. There is also the ability to block numbers, and even allow different phones to ring depending on who calls.

Where I believe Google Voice really shines is how it handles the voicemail online. I already mentioned receiving notifications, but Google Voice goes far beyond that. For one, you can listen to the voicemail online, so just fire up your browser and point it to your account to hear what people have left. Google Voice will also automatically transcribe the voicemail, and even send it to you via email/sms if you desire. I also must add that there is a “Do Not Disturb” option which I use that will just connect a caller to voicemail without ringing any phone, so you never get annoyed with calls when you don’t want them.

In all, I can say that Google Voice is an interesting little Google project and I am interested in how they might improve upon it. I’m also interested in how people might use this in unexpected ways, considering how popular voip is these days. There are features like conference calling and free U.S. based calls which I am sure people can  find interesting uses for. If you want to try calling me, feel free to check out the widget to the right of the screen.

 

The Aspiring Acer Aspire One

Stolen from Wikipedia, A netbook is a light-weight, low-cost, energy-efficient, highly portable laptop suitable for web browsing, email and general purpose applications. This holiday season, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an Aspire One of my very own. This thing comes fully loaded; a gigabyte of RAM, 1.6ghz Intel Atom processor, 160GB hard drive, three usb ports, card slots, built in web cam and mic, audio ports, wifi, the list goes on. The model I got came with a 6-cell battery for over 5 hours of use, as well as Windows XP Home. I figured that I’d go XP over getting a prepackaged Linux install because hey, I can always install Linux for free later anyway.

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So, upon first boot-up and registration, I notice there’s a load of bloatware, including some DVD app which is strange because these things lack a disc drive. After uninstalling, the Aspire One boots up in seconds, perfect for use just about anywhere and fast. Want to check my email, BAM, I’m up and running.

The two biggest complaints I’ve heard about the Aspire One were that the wifi card gives out at strange times, and the internal fan is very loud for such a small machine. After searching around I found out that the problems with the Atheros card can be easily stopped by turning off sleep mode in device properties, so I did just that as a preventative measure. Also, I don’t know if they improved anything when updating the Aspire Ones to make use of the new Intel processors, but I barely hear a fan, and thing thing hardly ever feels warm.

One qualm I do have is the built in speakers. From the first boot up when the Windows start up music chimed in, it was scratchy and underwhelming. I can say however, the HD sound achieved with headphones is a magical experience. Music sounds better on this than on my iPod. The internal microphone also proved a little soggy with its test, though I do believe the quality on that can be fine tuned if I put in enough effort.

For a web cam, this one works very well. Its spec’d at 1.3 megapixel, which blows other netbooks out of the water. The frame rate isn’t the best in the world, but its not like I’m making a movie on it, it gets the job done. On the performance side of things, with a 1.6Ghz processor, nobody is gonna be playing the newest and greatest games. The video playback seems to be very nice though. 720p  HD video plays smoothly and with no distortion. Even though the display is small, the video is crisp and detailed, as well as with no audio lag.

On the physical side of things, the Aspire One is very lite, and small enough to take just about anywhere. The 6-cell battery adds a load of weight, though and does stick out the back a bit. The keyboard is a little cramped but easily usable. The placement of the mouse buttons beside the touch pad are a bit awkward; needing two hands to comfortable operate.

In all, I can say I’m happy with it. I can easily boot up into Windows, or use a USB insallation of a Linux live cd (Backtrack 3 anyone?) and go take on the town. It also appears they have included a one year warrenty incase something breaks down, which is nice considering how paranoid I can become.