Welcome to Part Two of our cell phone strategy! Without further ado, let’s dive right in!
Google Voice (GV)
GV is wonderful for a variety of reasons:
- You can text any cell phone in the US for free, and use a standard keyboard to do it. It groups texts into conversations, which makes keeping track of who is saying what much easier.
- You can view all of your voicemails at once in an email-like interface. Also, GV tries to transcribe your voicemails into text. You can usually get the gist of a message from these, though they’re almost worth it more for the sometimes hilarious results (I swear I’ve seen a slightly slurred “talk to you later” turn into “taco to alligator”).
- Calls, texts, and voicemails can be forwarded to your email. If you work on a computer frequently, this is super convenient. You can also email voicemails and texts to people!
- GV can integrate with the Chrome browser, greatly extending its ease of use. With this extension, you can see your call history and messages, text, or call people from any window while exploring the Internet.
Here’s how a call works
Once you’ve set up Google Voice, calling people is a bit different than you’re probably used to. Here are the steps we take:
- Hook a headset (headphones with built-in microphone) to the computer.
- Use the GV Chrome browser extension or the “Call Phone” application in Gmail to look up a person’s number (they can be found by typing in a name, which is so much faster than scrolling through an address book).
- After clicking “Connect”, you may see a box that has your number in it. This is GVs way of routing the call through Gmail. When you click “Answer,” your call will connect to the correct number.
- Chat away like normal!
I really like that GV essentially necessitates you to not hold a phone to your head. It saves on elbow pain, shoulder strain, and reduces your exposure to potentially problematic radiation.
As long as you procure a good-quality USB headset, and your Internet is fast and reliable, you really don’t need much more to pull off this strategy.
A quick note on Skype
Skype is a pretty self-explanatory service that lets you call other Skype users free of charge. I won’t spend much time on it here, since others have done a great job of breaking down its features.
How can this strategy improve?
Honestly, at times, Google Voice can be a bit clunky (though no doubt it will continue to improve). Occasionally newly-added contacts won’t automatically update your GV address book (there’s often a time delay of a few hours). In addition, because using GV fully through the Internet requires installing a few plug-ins, it’s really tough to reliably use this on a public computer that’s not already set up for it.
Also, for some reason certain Tracfone models won’t sync with Google Voice’s voicemail. My current model, the LG600G, seems to work well. But the two models we’ve tried for Amanda (LG420G and Samsung T301) do not. It is still possible to set up Tracfone’s voicemail, but it’s not nearly as convenient as having online voicemail. Also, checking it costs Tracfone minutes.
Future phone posts will most likely explore improvements to our methods, including refinements to the existing strategies. Here are a few possible strategic additions:
- VoIP Cell Phones. The link, though a bit outdated, describes them succinctly enough. Basically, it’s just like a cell phone but it routes all calls through a VoIP system. It feels like what you’re used to, but without the costs! The only downside is you have to be in range of and linked to a wireless Internet network.
- VoIP Home Phones. These are like your standard ‘ole wired or wireless home phone, but they route their signals through VoIP.
- Other VoIP Providers. There are literally hundreds of them out there. Some, like voip.ms, offer dozens of sweet features at rock-bottom prices. If GV becomes pay-for-use, we may need to consider a different provider.
- 3G / Satellite Internet. Internet, without the wires! It’s pretty costly right now, but I’m willing to bet there’s a sweet workaround.
It’s probably the geek in me, but I’m pretty excited for when it’s time to dig into these new strategies. I’ll be sure to share!
Ultimately, as long as we have solid Internet access, our phone situation will be reasonably secure. If certain technological future predictions turn out being true, cell phone reception dead zones, and consequently the occasional uselessness of our Tracfones, will soon (within the next 5 – 10 years) be a thing of the past.
In other words, our current strategy should port nicely to an off-grid lifestyle, as long as we plan and prepare.
Whew! That’s it for our current cell phone situation. I hope you enjoyed reading about this sometimes kooky, but undeniably unique, approach to keeping in touch with friends and loved ones. It may be complicated, but it saves us around $500 a year. We think it’s worth it.
So, what do ya think? Would you try something like this? Do you feel like staying in touch with people in our modern world requires a pricey data plan and mecha snazzy phone or bust? I’d love to hear from ya!