Google Voice, or the one product Google got right

I mentioned before that I'm trying the exercise of removing Google from my life. I also mentioned that Google Voice is one of those sticky wickets for this whole process. I've been doing some research, and here's what I've found.

Before I present my research I'd like to highlight what (for me) are the hard rocks of this decision; the things that Google Voice does that are absolutely necessary for me to adopt a new platform. I know that folks like to recommend things without reading the hard-rock requirements so hopefully putting them front-and-center will get some more useful recommendations.

The "hard rocks" of Google Voice:

  • It must absolutely run under Linux, preferably using a web browser. Google Voice does this flawlessly. Add to that the interface is usable (for the most part) and doesn't get in the way. But first and foremost it must run under Linux. Full-stop.
  • It must run under Android (for as long as I keep and Android phone).
  • It must treat domestic calls as though they're just data. None of this minutes or long distance crap. It's just data. Let's leave the old ways behind.
  • Voice-mail transcription. I'd rather read a voicemail than listen to it. Oh, and it must have voicemail as well.
  • SMS that is truly SMS. I know SMS can be email messages or various other tomfoolery but if I give out this number for SMS I damn-well want it to receive and send SMS. And I'd like to do it from the comfort of an actual, proper, full-sized keyboard.
  • It must be dead simple to use. Phones are already complex beasts. I don't need anything to over complicate things for me.

There's likely others but those are the bare essentials. After reviewing several of these it becomes clear that I've adapted myself to how Google Voice works. It is literally the perfect phone platform for me (with rare exception).

So let's look at what I've discovered:

  • 8x8. This is the closest I've found to meeting all of these requirements but they're decidedly business focused. Getting anyone to schedule a call to discuss options is like pulling teeth. I've tried to give them money but it seems they're incapable of arranging how this might work. Still, if they manage to figure things out then I'm totally on-board with giving them a chance.
  • Zoom. Scarily enough this is the closest 1:1 mapping I've found. I don't trust Zoom as far as I can throw them but it's the best option I've found thus far.
  • Grasshopper. Has most of what I want, save for no Linux Application or web-browser calling. If that changes then they'll be back in the running.
  • Interesting concept but has all of the hallmarks of being someone's pet project to change telephony. Also a heavy reliance on XMPP which makes SMS messaging way more complicated than it need be. Also has a 120 minute per month "limit" with a confusing way to add more minutes. I'd have to spend more time adapting to its idiosyncrasies than having it adapt to my own. Interesting, but not a Google Voice replacement for me.
  • Vonage. The old-guard in this space, in every sense of that phrase. Also has a checkered past with customer service.
  • RingCentral. I thought Google Voice was RingCentral but it seems that wasn't the case. Unfortunately the similarities end there, with RingCentral being a business plan for folks with overcomplicated business needs.
  • Twilio. If I wanted to program my own phone service I'd use Asterisk. No.

I found others but they all failed the "must run on an actual desktop computer" test. I already hate talking on a mobile device so why would I pick something that makes me have to center my attention on a mobile device. That's just absurd.

It's amazing to me how much Google Voice fits my lifestyle. I can just open it in a web-browser and make calls without having to hold a mobile dingus to my head (and yes, I know that headsets exist for mobile devices and I find those as inscrutable as the mobile devices themselves).

I'm going to keep searching for alternatives, all the while hoping that Google doesn't screw up or axe Google Voice anytime soon. For all of their faults with communications platforms Google nailed this one. It's a shame too because that just puts a big target on its back.

Recommendations welcome, but bear in mind if those recommendations do not hit every single one of the hard rocks set out above then it's an automatic no from me.