Using Google Voice on an iPod Touch

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A guy could list a slew of reasons to use a Google Voice number as a primary phone number, including the financial (free texting, free long distance, cheap international calling), the convenient (ringing multiple phones, text and voicemail backups, customized greetings for individual callers), and the creepy (voicemail listen-in, easy call recording).

To me, one of the coolest reasons is that you don’t even need a phone to text and talk to people. You can do those things from a computer, an iPad, or an iPod Touch. For the sake of this article, I’ll talk about using a 4th generation iPod Touch, but everything here applies equally to an iPad.

To use your iPod as a Google Voice phone, you need two free apps: Talkatone and Google Voice. These are not the only apps with the necessary features, but they’re both free, and no single app that I’m aware of gives you the functionality of these two combined. The Google Voice app handles texting, and the Talkatone app lets you make and receive VOIP calls using your Google Voice number.

Talkatone has all the important basic features you’d want for handling phone calls: your Google Voice number shows up on the recipient’s caller ID when you make a call, and the sound quality is great for both the caller and the recipient (assuming you have a strong Wi-Fi connection), and the app also stays open in the background when you’re not using it, so it rings when you get a call.

However, Talkatone has a few drawbacks. First off, it doesn’t have a texting feature (hence the need for the Google Voice app). Not a deal-breaker, but annoying. Another problem is that you’re told to sign out of Google Chat any time you leave your computer, because an incoming call might be routed there instead of to Talkatone. And even after you sign out and close the browser window, it can take up to 15 minutes to switch where your call will show up. This could lead to missed calls (wife having a baby, job promotion, reminder of a Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy), which you might find unacceptable for a primary phone line.

Also, Talkatone functions through Google Chat, so when you have it set to receive calls (which, if you’re using your Google Voice number as your primary number, is likely to be always), you’re also listed as “online” to all your Gchat buddies. You can set your status to “Away,” but people can still message you. And anyway, it’s hard to remember to switch your status to “away” every time you don’t want people messaging you.

So Talkatone handles phone calls from your iPod, but you need to use the Google Voice app to send and receive text messages. Just like Talkatone, this works pretty well but it’s not ideal. First, if you open a blank text message and start typing the name of the person you want to text in the “To” field (like how you would in your phone’s texting app), it doesn’t connect to your contact list. So if you put “Bob” in the “To” field, it won’t associate Bob with a phone number. If you send the text, it will actually try to send it to the word “Bob.” So you have to go through your contact list to choose a recipient, or reply to a text you’ve already received.

Once you do that, you can start typing your message. However, there’s no character counter, so you don’t easily know how many texts you’re sending. Also, using Google Voice, you you can’t send MMS messages (pictures or videos), and you can’t send text messages to more than one recipient at a time without doing one of a few high-maintenence workarounds.

Which actually points to the larger issue: the whole Google Voice system is incredibly confusing. It’s great that Google Voice gives you so many options and so much functionality, but that functionality comes at the cost of having to wade through numerous settings menus and remembering tricks and shortcuts to do the things you want to do. And even though Google Voice can do lots of things regular phones can’t do, there are still certain basic functions it can’t do (like MMS and bulk texting) which are far likelier to be deal breakers.

To its credit, Google Voice it has continuously gotten better since it was launched. The longer it’s around, the more functionality it gets and the more platforms it becomes available on. Now some users can even port their existing number to become their Google Voice number. I won’t do that yet because of the deal breakers listed above, but in a few months, who knows?

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