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Appiphilia: Sound off on Google Voice for your mobile device

Google-on-hold
In the last two days, Apple has rejected the Google-submitted Google Voice application and pulled three other related apps, triggering a storm of criticism from digital technorati. Credit: Los Angeles Times

And you thought getting a Google Voice number was a challenge. If you're an iPhone or iPod Touch owner, getting an app to use that service is likely to prove more difficult. Apple has put Google Voice on what might be an extended hold.

Before the service is even in wide distribution, three $3 Google Voice-enabled apps that allowed you to use Google Voice from your iPhone have been yanked from the App Store because of what developers have been told is iPhone feature duplication (dialer, SMS, voice mail, etc.). And today, we hear that Apple rejected the app offering from Google (its seeming bosom buddy). Big-time disconnect. 

If you managed to nab one of the iPhone apps before they were pulled, hang on to it. So far (fingers crossed), they still seem to function. And you can actually use the mobile browser on your phone to access Google Voice. You get access to all of the features in the apps, including dialing, voice mail (audio and transcripts) and SMS. You can also access your contacts and adjust your master settings.

BlackBerry (and, of course Android-powered phone) users don't have to sweat. You get Google Voice via a Google-produced app and some third-party offerings.

For the "Voiceless" (or those who don't yet have Google Voice), GV users get a phone number that reaches them wherever they are. It routes calls to mobile, home and other phones based on who’s calling and when -- and even lets them personalize call features, such as the outgoing voice mail message, for a particular person or group. Great.

But the challenge is in the calling back. Being able to dial out with the GV number is part of its value -- otherwise every time they call people back, their real numbers display. The GV number should pop up on caller ID.

We take a look at the apps -- the ones you can get and the ones you can't (in case you happened to snag them before they went ghost).

Google Voice for BlackBerry (Free)

What it is: This is the app you can download directly from Google.

The installation is fairly straightforward. Once you enter your account information, you can dial and text using your Google Voice number, access your call log, check voice mail and view transcripts.

The voice mail does take about 15 to 20 seconds to download to the phone once selected. Once it loads, the transcript is visible and each word is highlighted as the message is being played.

The app displays time, signal strength and battery charge. And it lets you dial directly from the call log in addition to tapping into the BlackBerry's native address book.

Bottom line: No real hang-ups, although it doesn't really integrate with the phone's native functions. Totally usable and a great price -- free!


Mzl.tqtkoebv GVdialer (unavailable in App Store, $9.99 for BlackBerry)

What it is: GVdialer was one of the three previously available $3 apps dropped yesterday from Apple's App Store. As it turns out, it's also available for BlackBerry and other phones. We happened to have a copy for both phones and will give you our thoughts.

iPhone: When it was on the market, it was actually a pretty serviceable app. It immediately loads the keypad with the "call" button in the middle at the bottom. To the left is a menu of shortcuts to voice mail, your GV inbox and Goog-411, Google's 411 service.

The phone log lets you return a call either by using GVdialer (Google Voice) or by making a direct call (iPhone). The app integrates your native address book, giving easy and immediate access to your contacts.

The connection to voice mail isn't an ideal user experience. It calls the voice mail instead of providing access within the app itself, as its two competitors do. Of course, in this way, it isn't mimicking the iPhone's visual voice mail.

BlackBerry: For starters, you can get a free 30-day trial version of the app. We do love free trials. Some corporate BlackBerrys might have extra permissions restrictions on them, so setup might take some help from the IT department. 

One of the cool features here is that you don't need to open the app to use it. If you're in the native dialer, you can select the menu button to opt to call or text using GVdialer, keeping the illusion of that Google Voice number intact.

Within the app, you can call your voice mail or Google's 411 service and check for updates.

Bottom line: GVdialer for iPhone isn't bad but doesn't integrate voice mail. There are were better options. GVdialer for BlackBerry is pretty darn good, but for $10? Well, yeah, that's about fair for a BlackBerry app. The integration into normal phone functions really is a plus. Also, it's available for a wide range of devices beyond these two smart phones.


Mzl.iolkuxuf GV Mobile (unavailable in App Store)

What it is: It's a resort-style app. It's got just about everything you need and want.

This one looks, well, quite a bit like the iPhone's native dialer. The keypad even includes a button for contacts. Across the bottom, you can tap SMS to send texts, which again should look quite familiar to iPhone users. The conversation lays out in much the same way native SMS chats do. The list of voice mails appears within the app, and the sound downloads within seconds. This app doesn't include the transcript, however. The app makes calls via Google Voice and then dials your phone of choice to connect you. In the app's settings, you can select which phone you'd like to use.

Bottom line: This was definitely at the top of the like list. It seemed to be missing nothing -- until we tried VoiceCentral, that is. But if you've got it, hang on to it for sure.


Voice-central VoiceCentral (unavailable in App Store)

What it is: If GV Mobile is a resort app, VoiceCentral is an all-inclusive.

It has the familiar keypad. But instead of the contacts' being in the bottom left, the SMS button is there. Kind of handy.

On this app, it's clear that the dialer itself isn't the focus. The button in the first position across the bottom is voice mail -- and that was the selling feature for us. It incorporates the transcription as well as the audio. This is actually our favorite distinguishing feature because it can be more convenient (and slightly less rude) to glance at the screen than it is to put the phone up to your ear.

What would be the call log, or history, includes texts with the list of calls. You can drill down to missed, received and placed calls as well as texts. Like the others, the app taps into the phone's native contacts. Contacts can be added to your address book from the history or voice mail lists. It allows some additional customization such as color scheme, defaults, tones and voice mail and history maximums.

Bottom line: Our favorite of the GV-friendly iPhone apps. We're really hoping it doesn't disappear from our phone as it did from the App Store.

-- Michelle Maltais

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