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Free Texting With Google Voice

Google Voice LogoGoogle Voice provides the solution to a problem that I’ve been trying to resolve for years; Google Voice allows me to send and receive text messages from my Blackberry for free (aside from the data plan that I’m already paying for) . This goal has been a quest of mine because:

  1. The cost of text messages is way out of line with the cost for the data plan that I am already paying for, and
  2. My company cell phone plan does not include text messaging. just voice and data.

Here is how I have set up Google Voice to get free, easy, reliable and free (yes I know I wrote that twice) text messaging on my BlackBerry.

What is Google Voice?

Google Voice is the service that used to be known as Grand Central until Google bought it a year ago. With Google Voice you can have one phone number that will then ring your home phone, office phone, cell phone, etc in order to reach you.  You can also set this up to ring specific phone lines based on who is calling.  You can call using your Google Voice number from your computer or cell phone (using the Google Voice application) and, like Skype, you can also use your Google Voice number to make VOIP calls, national calls are free, you must pay for international calls.  Google Voice services also include voicemail transcription, listening in on someone recording a voicemail before taking a call and text messaging.  The great thing is that SMS messages sent from your BlackBerry using Google Voice will be sent through your data plan, as opposed to your SMS plan, so there won’t be any SMS charges.  They are free.

How to send free text messages with Google Voice

At the time of writing access to Google Voice requires an invitation, just like Google Wave does currently and Gmail did when it first launched, but I assume that in a few months or a year it will be easier to sign up for this service from Google.  Therefore, the first step to get free text messaging with Google Voice is to either have Google Voice or get an invitation so that you can get Google Voice.  People with Google Voice have just received invitations that they can share so if you need Google Voice look for a friend who already has it and hit them up for an invite.

Google Voice Desktop SMSFrom the Google Voice website, sending text messages is as easy as IMing someone, and of course free.  (BTW you can also text for free from Google Talk, but only on your computer, not your BlackBerry as far as I can tell). To do this from the Google Voice website click the SMS button in the upper left hand corner of the inbox.  Enter the recipients phone number, type your text message and click send.  Easy.

From a Blackberry you need to first download the Google Voice mobile application that can be found at m.google.com/voice.  Once the Google Voice application is installed log in and you’ll have several options for sending a text message.

  1. From your BlackBerry Address Book, select your contact, press the menu button, and then choose SMS via Google Voice.
    Google Voice Address Book SMS
  2. From the Google Voice application:
    1. Launch Google Voice for BlackBerry.
    2. Select the Dialer tab.
      Google Voice Dialer Tab
    3. Enter the person’s number, press the menu button, and select SMS.
      Google Voice Dialer Menu
    4. Compose your message, press the menu button again, and click Send.
      Google Voice Compose SMS
  3. From the Google Voice application
    1. Launch Google Voice for BlackBerry.
    2. Select the Dialer tab.
    3. Select a phone number or contact from the history, press the menu button, and select SMS.
    4. Compose your message, press the menu button again, and click Send.

How to receive free text messages with Google Voice

Sending text messages via Google Voice is easy. Receiving them is easy too:

  1. From the Google Voice application:
    1. Launch Google Voice for BlackBerry.
    2. Select the Inbox tab.
    3. Received text messages will be listed with a purple icon beside them.
      Google Voice Inbox
  2. From your mobile phone, if you have listed your phone as one of your forwarding phones, replies will come directly to it like other text messages, but you may be charged for received SMS messages.

Neither of these are acceptable options.  Clearly in option  2 received texts are not free so we don’t want that, but what’s wrong with option 1?  First, Google Voice checks for messages no more often that every 5 minutes.  From the Settings menu you can set it to check even less often if you like, but if you consider that receiving a standard text on your phone notification is basically instantaneous then you probably want to have Google voice check as often as possible. While notifications every 5 minutes isn’t great, it would be acceptable if it wasn’t for the second thingGoogle Voice Notification, notification of voicemails and text messages for the Google Voice BlackBerry application stinks.  With a standard text you get a “ping” sound or your phone vibrates and you may have a pop up telling you that you have received a text.  The Google Voice notification of voicemail or SMS receipt is a small yellow star that blends into the icon and is  easily missed.  Between these 2 issues it’s easy to not be aware that you have received a text, which can cause a lot of headaches.  Until I figured out this workaround.

How to receive instant notifications of text receipt from Google Voice

This is a work around, not a fix, but it works.  Simply set message forwarding to the email address that you use to receive email on your BlackBerry’s  Message application (in my case it’s my work email address).  This will send all text messages to your BlackBerry’s email

Here is how you do it:

  1. Set your BlackBerry email address as the location where voicemail notifications should be sent.
    1. Google Voice Settings Voicemail & SMSOn the Google Voice website select Settings link from the upper right corner
    2. Select the Voicemail & SMS tab
    3. Under Voicemail Notifications first add your email address using the link Add a new email address
    4. Select that email address as the destination for Email the message to:
    5. Uncheck Send a text (SMS) message to: (this step isn’t required, but if you leave it checked you will get notifications via text message as well as the emails)
  2. Activate SMS forwarding
    1. In the Voicemail & SMS tab check the box for Forward SMS messages to my email.
    2. Click Save

Blackberry Messages Inbox

Now when you receive a Google Voice text message an email will be sent to your BlackBerry and appear as a message in the Message application.  You will get the message near instantaneously, you get a real notification and replying is easy too, just respond to the email and your response will be sent as a text from your Google Voice number.

Now you should deactivate text message notifications from Google Voice since we’re trying to reduce the amount of money that we’re spending on text messaging and so that you don’t get duplicate alerts about voicemails and text messages received on your Google Voice phone number.

  1. Google Voice Settings PhonesDeactivate SMS Notifications

    1. On the Settings page select the Phones tab.
    2. In the Forward to: Mobile section click the Edit button
    3. On the subsequent screen by SMS Settings uncheck Receive SMS on this phone (mobile phones only)
    4. Click Save
    5. Google Voice Settings Voicemail & SMSGo to the Voicemail & SMS tab
    6. Under Voicemail Notifications uncheck Send a text (SMS) message to:
    7. Click Save

Please let me know what you think of this option, any amendments to make the feature better or to clarify instructions.  Good luck and enjoy.

Special thanks to Duane Haas whose issues setting this up helped to enhance the instructions.

32 Responses to “Free Texting With Google Voice”

  1. thanks much for this writeup. I was trying to figure out why my friends BB was getting hit with SMS usage when i was texting to his google voice number. This was very helpful in resolving that. thanks!

  2. shouldnt you have to uncheck the send a text to (sms) to: PHONE button as well?

  3. actually, nevermind, thats for voicemails

  4. although, in following these steps, i still have a message show up under txts on my phone

  5. I assume that you mean for the Voicemail Notification. Unchecking the “Send a text (SMS) message to:” option isn’t required for the notification to work as described, but having both an email and text message options checked results in duplicate alerts which is unnecessary. I don’t have text messaging on my BlackBerry so I never noticed the issue. I’ve unchecked the text message alerts in my settings now. Thanks for the tip.

  6. so my scenario is as follows:

    txt send using google voice from phone to someone. they reply back, and although i have forwarding of sms to email checked, I still get the message showing up. i’m guessing this is because i have a txt plan @ the moment??

  7. Duane – I suspect that you are getting the text because you have the send a text option selected and a text plan. Try unchecking the “send a text message” option and see if that does the trick.

    BTW – I use the IM to text message Google Talk feature to do my testing. You can IM your Google Voice phone number using a Gmail address, for example if your Google Voice number is (123) 456-7890 then the Gmail address is 1234567890@gmail.com

  8. ok, thanks for the heads up, just not sure i understand which send a text message your referring to??? under settings (voicemail & sms) i have the sms forwarding box CHECKED, and have unchecked the option under voicemail for sending a txt and have the same thing happeng:

    txt sent from google chat to my google voice number not only forwards the sms txt to the email i specified, but its also showing up as a txt.

  9. On the Settings > Voicemail & SMS screen make sure that “Send a text (SMS) message to:” is unchecked. Then go to Settings > Phones and under Mobile click the “edit” button. On the subsequent screen by SMS Settings uncheck “Receive SMS on this phone (mobile phones only)”. Give that a try and let me know if it works for you.

  10. PERFECT, wasnt aware of the other setting under phones, that worked. I would want to keep the forwarding of sms message turned on for “instant” notification though correct. thanks again for your help tom, close to killing my txt plan

  11. So glad that worked. I’ll update the post with these tips to help the next person. Good luck in dropping your text plan.

  12. great followup, quick question, what do you do to get around the issue where when you reply to the email notification that the user on the other end is getting the some of the original to:/fromL info, i havent seen it yet, but some folks i’m txt are telling me the txt looks goofy

  13. Duane – I haven’t heard any reports about the to/ from info being passed along text replies so I haven’t had to set up a workaround, but I’ll keep an eye out. Do you have experience with that or just heard that others have?

  14. So, let’s say that I have a mobile phone that has texting capabilities but not unlimited (pay for receiving and sending texts). And i link it with google voice and then the ipod app textnow to send texts. Will I ever be charged even once for sending and receiving texts with voicemail on textnow?

  15. JT – if you only send or receive texts using your Google Voice number or using TextNow then yes you will not be charged for texting. But those services do not prevent charges when for example someone sends a text to your non-Google Voice number and TextNow isn’t operating.

    I have no text plan on my BlackBerry, only send and receive texts using my Google Voice number and am never charged for texts, but I miss any texts to my regular voice number. I hope that answers your question.

  16. I possess a Encore ESH-709, if I plug in the net to the line in, and my pc into 1 of the out ports, i experience 10mbps, and it says their is limited or no connectivity. If i connect the internet cord into the out plug, and the pc into the input plug, i get 100 mbps, please help!

  17. Sorry Lavina, sounds like the ports are mislabeled, but the comment has nothing to do with this post which is about using Google Voice on a BlackBerry. Good luck.

  18. Anyone have an invite for google voice they can hook me up with? Dying to get started!

    corey.holthaus@gmail.com

  19. Excellent advice and thanks for showing how to do this. I was laid off a 3 months ago and after a fruitless search for creative jobs I decided to go freelance. To get to the point, I was looking for ways to cut costs anywhere I could and after reading about Google Voice, I got interested. Especially as it’s open now, no invutes necessary. I’m about to change carriers (for lower priced plan) and one of the things I can do to reduce expenses is to decline the txt service.

    By using the process you have described, I can send and receive txt’s with no cost penalty to me. When my contract is up with my current provider I plan on using your instructions to set it up. Yours are the most easy to understand, as the others I have seen have lacked specifics. Thanks so much for this and all the best.

  20. Thanks so much for this post.

    I first heard about Google Voice from somebody else, looked around a little bit and thought this article was supremely helpful.

  21. This is a great article. There was one quick question I had that doesn’t seem to be covered: When you reply to a text that was received as an email, does it appear to come from your GV number, or from your email address? If the latter, that might be confusing for the recipient.

    I’m hoping it appears to come from your GV number. If so, I’ll be saving $10-15 a month on texting.

  22. John – replies will be from your Google Voice number, not your email address. No confusion AND saving on testing.

  23. Awesome thanks for the fast reply!

  24. Hi Thomas,

    You said that you could use the Google Voice app to make calls using VOIP like Skype. I thought this meant that the data plan would be used (i.e. an internet connection) rather than minutes, is that correct?

    Whenever I make calls using Google Voice, it looks like it calls some 972 area code number using my phone network, not internet/data connectivity.

    Or am I missing something?

    Thanks!

  25. Shan – that’s correct, you use data rather than minutes. What you may be seeing is your unique Google Voice number. Check to see that Google Voice is configured correctly and let me know if that works for you.

  26. Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for the quick reply. I have both google talk and google voice on my blackberry. The google voice is set up so that “This phone’s number:” is set to “Google Talk”.

    Before, it was set to my mobile number.

    However, I still get a +1 number that my phone calls that is NOT my unique google voice number.

    I’m in Hong Kong right now and was hoping to use my phone to make phone calls to the US without the high rates. It doesn’t look like that’s going to be possible.

    Is there another area where I can switch settings? Do I need to modify settings on my google talk app?

    Thanks again
    Shan

  27. Shan – sorry, I haven’t used Google Voice for BlackBerry to make international calls, but based on their website it seems like international calls are “inexpensive,” but not free. http://www.google.com/mobile/voice/

    Let me know how it works out in the comments.

  28. Hi,

    i’m interested in porting my number to google voice to be able to keep the same number. Would google voice work without a data plan? I want to be able to to keep my old number.

  29. Jo – while you can access Google Voice transcribed voicemail and send texts via their website, on your phone calls and texts are sent via your data plan and access to the Google Voice app requires a data plan. So, yeah you really do need a data plan to use Google Voice.

  30. Sometimes my texts get locked up when sending a text. It says “sending SMS messgae” but doesn’t go any further. I have to download google voice again to get it working again.

  31. Tom,
    Is data plan really necessary? Couldnt you use Google Voice with just wi-fi?? (assuming you have a wi-fi hotspot connection)

  32. A data plan isn’t required. As you suggested wifi will take care of all your data needs for Google Voice, but without a data plan you are tied to only texting where you have wifi access. A data plan will give you a lot more flexibility.

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