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Oct 19

Oh, Google just turned my iPod touch into a free wifi phone

Today I noticed that Google turned my iPod touch into a free wifi phone. That’s nice of them.

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To turn your iOS device into a free wifi phone. Simply create a Google Voice #, and install the Google Voice and Google Hangouts apps on your device. You’ll be able to send and receive text messages with the Google Voice app, and read your Google Voice voicemail there too. The Hangouts app will let you make and receive calls to/from real phone #s, and instant-message with your friends.

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I’ve used Google Voice for several years. It’s great, because it gives you a free phone number that redirects to other numbers. I give people my Google Voice #, and when they call, it automatically rings several personal lines. Further, if I ever change or add a phone number, such as a new work #, I can always re-configure my Google Voice # to dial that #, without confusing everyone with yet another email about “delete this old #, add this new one”.

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Google Voice auto-transcribes voicemail as well, which is really nice, because you can eyeball skim/read a voicemail and click “delete” on a computer much faster than you can listen to your messages on a real phone. Bonus feature: you can text with google voice from a browser, or an iPod Touch – this is great for me, because I use a nokia brick phone with a t-mobile prepaid phone plan, and texting on 10-key is terrible.

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The downside to Google Voice has always been that it’s not actually a phone. When you dial someone with the Voice app, it dials your contact, then dials your real phone, and connects you together – you can’t just dial right out on a computer or non-phone smart device like an iPod touch and use a headset.

There have been several inexpensive or free “turn your iPod Touch into a wifi phone” gimmick apps or services over the past few years, but they’ve always been a hassle (listen to a 30 second ad before your call begins..) or short-lived – so, I’ve just always dialed directly with my brick phone, and told my contacts “my real number is the google voice #, ignore the caller id”.

That all changes with the latest version of Google’s Hangouts app on iOS. The latest version allows you to dial and receive phone calls right from your iOS device, for free. Dialing out will show your google voice # on your contact’s caller id, and when someone dials your Google Voice #, your connected iOS devices will receive an notification that you’re being called – and your real phones will still ring too.

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Hangouts is Google’s rebranded Google Talk service – their instant messaging service. It allows you to chat with your friends or groups of your friends, video chat, and audio chat with them. It’s basically Google’s competition to Facebook Messenger and Skype.

This is a great development for users like myself who don’t want to pay $70-$100 per month for a smart phone w/ a data plan. I typically pay about $100 for 4 or 5 months of service, because I primarily use audio/video chat on skype and email or facebook for communication. Now, I’ll be using even less pre-paid cell minutes when I need to make a call from my home or office, or anywhere else with reliable wifi. Cool.