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Google Voice and Hangouts: Free, Handy Tools for Lawyers

You have a small firm. You want to be "connected" at all times. If an important client calls, you want to be able to answer that call, whether you are in the office, on the road, or making s'mores in the mountains (assuming you have cell service up there).

This is what Google Voice used to be good at: forwarding incoming calls from your Google Voice phone number to anywhere (landline, cell, computer). But, the app hadn't been updated in years for either iOS or Android. Plus, it was pretty much for incoming calls only -- dial out on your phone and you've just given that client your cell number. (There was a workaround for Android that spoofed your Google Voice number, but thanks to the core app's stagnation, it was a pain to use.)

Well, Google just fixed everything. Kinda. Google Voice is now (mostly) integrated in its Hangouts app, which means a free business phone number, free VoIP services to the U.S. and Canada, free texting, and only a slight headache, though we'll try to simplify it a bit.

What Is Google Voice/Hangouts?

Google Voice is simple:

  1. Sign in to a Google Account.
  2. Pick a free phone number.
  3. Add your cell, office, and other phone numbers as forwarding numbers.

Once you've done that, Google Voice will:

  • Let you send and receive texts from the Google Voice app.
  • Let you call people (it will dial you and your call recipient -- they see your GV number).
  • Forward incoming calls to whichever phone number you've designated.
  • Forward incoming calls to your Obihai box (see below), which gives you a free VoIP landline.

Google Hangouts is the company's all-in-one chatting app, which combines:

  • SMS (text messaging) in Android.
  • Google Chat (gChat).
  • Google Voice texts.
  • Voice calls over IP (uses Wi-Fi or cell data instead of cell minutes).
  • Video chat (a la Skype or Apple's Facetime).

Hangouts Update

The update to Google Hangouts, which rolled out to Apple iOS and Android users last week, incorporates Google Voice's most important features into Hangouts: free texting and placing calls via your Google Voice number. For those on a Wi-Fi network, and short on cell reception, the latter feature is especially handy. It's also handy for those wanting to route a call through a  "business" number.

Getting Google Voice functionality in Hangouts is easy: For both Apple iOS and Android users, if your account already has a Voice number, you should get a pop-up asking if you want to add it to the app after you update to the latest version. For placing calls, Android users have to download the "Hangouts Dialer" app. iOS has voice calls already baked in to the app.

Free Landline

Last year, I wrote a post describing a free landline solution: Google Voice and an Obihai box. Earlier this year, Google blocked third-party devices, but last week, some sort of deal was struck and Obi boxes are back.

Free landline. Using your GV phone number. If you buy a $30 box.

Wait, I'm Confused

Yes, me too. You see, Google Voice was awesome. Then it stagnated. Hangouts, as a standalone service, was awesome. And text messages are ... reliable. Google is trying to combine all of these things into one single app -- a lofty goal, one which is still a major work in progress, as Android Central notes.

But using Google Voice gets you a free phone number that you can hand out to anyone without compromising your real number. And it gives you free VoIP calling from a computer. And if you buy a third-party box, it gives you a free landline. Add all that up, and it's a lot of very handy and(mostly) free stuff.

Even if it is confusing.

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