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Google Voice iPhone apps: They're baaaack!

September 21, 2010 |  1:17 pm

Google voiceFor those of us with iPhones, the challenge with Google Voice isn't getting calls at a number you can forward from phone to phone. It has been with making calls from that virtual number. That's where apps enter -- and then they disappeared.

You may recall that last summer Apple rejected Google's iPhone app for its Google Voice service and pulled three $3 Google Voice-enabled apps that allowed you to use Google Voice from your iPhone because of what developers were told was iPhone feature duplication (dialer, SMS, voice mail, etc.) An inquiry from the Federal Communications Commission ensued.

Well, the apps, they're baaaaack!

Over the past few days, two GV apps went on sale: GV Mobile+ and GV Connect

As little aside: One previously available, VoiceCentral, was recently rejected, but seems to be feeling good about it. While not thrilled with the outcome, the developers say they're thrilled by the response -- after having been in "review purgatory" for over a year. Baby steps toward a more open process

We took the two currently available for a test spin. 

Mzi.fjcvkhvs.170x170-75 GV Connect ($2.99)

What it does: It's a dialer that helps you dial others using your Google Voice number. (You know, so your GV number is the one that shows up in caller ID, not the one you're actually calling from and trying not to give out.)

First off, GV Connect includes all the standard features you'd want in a dialer app, but one of our favorite user-friendly inclusions is the call button. It's super simple to toggle between the phones you want to forward the call to. This becomes quite useful when you realize that cell reception is rather spotty where you are and have a land line at your disposal. A nice touch, letting you make calls more quickly while capitalizing on the flexibility of the GV service without having to go into settings.

The screen for keypad tab indicates the city you're calling and its local time -- so 212 elicits a New York designation across the top of the screen under the number and lists a three-hour time difference from our Los Angeles calling location.

Not as useful a feature as it once might have been with area codes being less meaningful in this mobile era.

You can also see in the top right of the keypad tab how much calling credit you have available.  Again, not very useful if you never go beyond the courtesy 10-cent credit.

In the voicemail tab, you get two lines of transcription (useful enough, depending on the reliability of Google's transcription, which can be rather spotty at times), the call date and the ability to star favorites or messages you want to remember later.

You can also toggle among all messages, the ones you haven't read yet and the ones you marked. Once you go into a message, you can access the recording on the same page as the transcript appears. You can also write notes to yourself and block the contact from both the voicemail and text message pages, if you wish. 

This app, like its competitor below, allows you to hear the voicemail either over the phone's speaker or by putting your ear to the phone. There's also a character count in the text message tab. 

Bottom line: Toggling made easy. The call button is a nice addition, and voicemail is nicely packaged.

Mzi.yhpcuueh.170x170-75 GV Mobile+ ($2.99)

What it does: This is a blast from the past, a remade version of one of the apps removed from the App Store in 2009. It was at the top of our list then and again gets a great reception. 

Among the things we like about this app is the favorites tab -- Apple doesn't provide access to your phone's favorites list. When you flip to contacts from the keypad, you have access to the full list of contacts as well as the tab of favorites. 

If you have multiple accounts, you can easily toggle between them with a single tap in the settings. In fact, adjusting settings is easy to set up and fairly intuitive.  

Some of the other notable user-friendly features are landscape support throughout, the ability to set a default area code and startup tab, being able to set the frequency of data sync and phone number recognition (or displaying the name of a contact when you type in a number that's in your contacts).

In the voicemail list, in addition to the name or number of the person who called, it shows how long ago the message was left and the first line of transcription. It doesn't include the actual date.

We weren't thrilled by having to tap on a button labeled "trans." at the bottom of the screen to see the transcription. It would have been more intuitive to have that launch by tapping the arrow on the right of the message. Instead, by tapping the arrow, you trigger a menu allowing you to call the number back, send a text or add the information to your iPhone contacts. 

A few things the developer says are in the works: push, VoIP and alternate dialing.

Speaking of dialing, offline dialing, which is supposed to let you place calls when no data connection is available, didn't quite work as planned when we used the app. It kept getting locked up in the Google Voice number's voicemail when we tried it.

Another disconnect is that those of us who paid their $3 last year get to pay three bucks yet again to get what is essentially an upgrade that would normally be free for an app that Apple didn't pull from its App store. 

Bottom line: Clean interface. Allows a favorites page for frequently called numbers. Good app (again), but not thrilled about having to pay full price (again) for what's essentially a long-delayed upgrade.

For those of us who prefer the price of "free," you can always launch the Google Voice webpage from your home screen. Many of us without jailbroken phones have had to use that for the past year, and it still works just fine.

Who knows, we might soon just see a Google app for Google Voice. Stay tuned.

-- Michelle Maltais 

Photo: Jason Toff, marketing manager for Google Voice, demonstrates how to make a call from a red phone booth at the Google office in San Francisco in August. Google plans to promote the Google Voice service by setting up red phone booths at universities and airports scattered across the United States. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press

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