First impressions of GrandCentral

I signed up for this free service a few days before Google bought them… gives you a local number… for life. It acts as a “front end” for your other phones. So even though your cellphone or work number changes, people can still reach you at your GC number.

So far, it’s saved me a fair amount of long distance phone charges from home. My work and work cell are a long distance call, but I have a grand central number that’s local to home. And because I live in a monopolistic broadband internet supply market, my only choice other than cable internet was DSL – but I have to maintain a land line to get it… so at home I still pay the occasional long distance charges.

For example: My wife calls the grandcentral number from home. GC recognizes that home is calling, so it doesn’t ring that number – it rings all the phones it’s been programed to. So my work and cell ring. Which ever I pick up, I get a prompt asking me if I want to accept the call from “home” press 1 – then I get the call.

You can enter in people from that you would normally get calls from into the GC Address book and then assign them groups or specific settings per user. Or, if you’re lazy, just wait for them to call. Then go back and fill in the info later in the call log.

Which leads me to another insanely useful feature – the Call Log. Everyone who calls you is logged here with a time stamp. I have a call log on all of my phones too… but what if I’m at home and they called my work phone? Or what if they were the thirtieth call and the log has dropped them? Well no more – you now have a detailed history with options to flag a call or just click the “Call” button to have GC patch you in!

Patching in calls is awesome. When you click on a “Call” button, you get prompted for a phone. You can chose your pre-programed phones or enter in a temporary number for just this call. And the phone rings, instantly patched into to the number you wanted to call.

How can you setup call routing? After you’ve assigned your contacts into groups or just given them access to the phones you wanted them to call the caller ID drives the system.

  • Grandma rings home only
  • Wife rings work and cell only
  • kids ring home, work, and cell
  • boss goes directly to work and cell, but has a different voicemail announcement.
  • customer A goes directly to voicemail with special voicemail announcement.
  • customer B goes to work phone
  • and so on.

    I currently have three groups… the default ones: Work, Family, Friends, and Other. I could easily setup additional groups for clients or break that down into contacts per company so they get their own ring back tone “Hello Joe, your call is getting routed to the phone closest to me if I’m available”

    If I decline or don’t answer – it goes to a personalized voicemail greeting “I’m sorry I wasn’t available to take a call from you, Joe. The company X project is very important to me. Please leave me a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. ”

    It may sound cheesy, and needs a bit refinement – but having a personalized greeting in my own voice for clients is not a deal maker – but shows that I actually have a place for them in my calendar – even if I don’t answer this call. I sure beats three rings and a generic voice mail prompt.

    You get your voice mail emailed to an email address via an attachment, or you can listen to them online. As you can see, this could be very helpful in keeping customers, work, and family in the loop and in contact with you – without having to give out a ton of numbers and phone rules.

    How much is this going to cost me?
    So far it’s free… Google bought them and turned them into a Beta service with no changes in billing or reduction in features. Given this status, I wouldn’t run your business on it yet. I did submit a support request asking about how I’ll get charged for using various parts of their service, but even the support people are in the dark. Here’s the response I got:

    Thank you for contacting us.

    I apologize but the pricing has not been disclosed to us. Once the pricing and feature structure is set I am sure we will post the information on our site. GrandCentral is free during beta.

    Please feel free to contact us if you have any additional questions.

    The only thing that you can get charged for is by making outbound VoiP calls through the service from your PC. When I signed up I had a $2 credit in my account. Not sure if I’ll ever use it, but I may find a use for it.

    Some of the useful power features:

    Call routing: Being able to route callers based on group or individual numbers to various phones or voicemail is insanely cool.
    Spam blocking: no more unknown / unlisted callers… the call can be screened or just dumped into a spam message playback “Sorry, this caller does not accept unlisted calls”.
    Call screening: The caller (if the caller ID isn’t picked up) will have to give their name, that is then played to you – where you have the option to press 1 to accept the call or not accept it and let it go to voice mail. If the caller ID is picked up, the name is played for you.

    Some fun fluff features that are available:

    Uploadable Ring back tones: Your callers will hear what ever ringback tone in place of the normal American telephone ring tone. I sent a short clip of a music mp3 for family to hear. So far that’s been well received.
    Webcall Buttons: html code to embed on your web pages for people to call you directly.
    Visual Voicemail: you can login and see all of your voice mail messages from any browser, including mobile browsers. Take that, iPhone.

    Final verdict

    A very useful product, but currently a “Wait and See” recommendation. I can easily see this as a “must have” service for multi-phone number people like myself. Since my cell and work numbers have changed three times in as many years, this bring some stability back into my life. The only problem is, the service has been slapped with a Google “Beta” tag… So I’m not completely comfortable giving that number out for all my contacts or changing any of my listed numbers. In August, the system will be fully assimilated into Google. Hopefully we’ll know more about costs, features, and services they’ll be offering. We’ll also be able to watch for obtrusive ads to appear. The last thing I want a client to hear when they call me is an audio Google adsence assault before they get to talk to me. Don’t worry, I don’t think it’ll happen – but I’d rather sit back and watch before handing out the number to people that directly affect my wages!

    I also wanted to mention that Grandcentral has a charitable side to them. Here’s a quote from their site:

    GrandCentral is commited to helping those in need stay connected by offering individuals a local phone number and voicemail box for life. Through our Project CARE initiative, GrandCentral is providing, free of charge, a local phone number and voicemail box to members of the homeless community in San Francisco. We hope to extend this program nationwide as we build out our services.

    Read more about it here:

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