Damnit. I’ve been working on a great review of GrandCentral’s online service for several (ok several, several) months and we keep finding a reason to postpone it. First, there was the buyout by Google and as usually happens, no one cared about the service, they just cared about the price. Then there was the fact that they closed the Beta and the only thing anyone cared about was, “Where can I get a Grand Central invitation?”
Well, screw it. I’m ready to get this review off my desk and out to the people. Keep in mind there may be some changes as things get more integrated with Google’s other services, and if you aren’t already a member, this is just going to be adding to the hype, but one day soon, you can be a GrandCentral member, too. And when that time comes, you’ll have a good appreciation for it.
One good thing about the fact that it has taken me so long to finish this review is that it’s based on almost a year of testing. I and some other Texxors authors use it literally every day. And unequivocally we agree that GrandCentral is one of the coolest things we’ve come across since we’ve been writing about tech stuff. It is the ultimate in great services for a great price, in no small way because it’s completely free to use.
GrandCentral primarily bills itself as a service that allows you to consolidate all of your current phone numbers into one, but this is a serious underrepresentation of its abilities. Yes, GrandCentral provides you with a single phone number that will ring all of your current communication devices when someone calls, but there’s soooo much more you can do with the service.
Let’s start off with a small but useful feature here: GrandCentral allows you to use caller id differently than traditional lines by setting it to show the number that is being called – that is, you can see when someone is calling your GrandCentral number versus directly dialing your cell (or home) number. Then when you answer the call, GrandCentral will tell you the name of the caller at that time, if known (you can even force them to leave a name before connecting), and give you an option to accept or decline the call. I usually give my GrandCentral number out to one time contacts (i.e. delivery people, craigslist users, etc.) or in online forms, so I can use this feature so I know whether I am getting a call from someone I want to talk to, or someone I probably don’t (unless I am expecting a delivery).
A different approach is used by one of our writers who recently moved from Texas to the east coast. Her cell phone has an area code for the city she used to live in, but she wanted a local number for contacts in her new city. She set up a GrandCentral number that is a local call in her new location and gives that out to new friends, while keeping the old cell phone number for friends and family in the old town. She uses caller id traditionally, and doesn’t bother to answer if she doesn’t recognize the number. If she wanted to, she could use GrandCentral’s ListenIn feature, that allows you to listen to the message as it’s being recorded and jump in if you decide you want to answer it.
GrandCentral stores your voicemail on its website, and you can have it send email or text messages when you have a new voicemail. It logs all calls online too, so you can save numbers to your address book with the caller’s name, or you can mark them as spam. When you mark calls as spam, they will always go straight to a SPAM voicemail box, or you can even have it play a “Number not in service,” so that telemarketers and collection agencies stop trying.
We’ve only used a handful of the features, but there’s other cool ones, too:
- You can set up personalized voicemail greetings for a specific person or group
- You can record calls on the fly
- You can add a button to your website so people can call you without getting access to your phone number
- You can have different rings play for callers while they wait for you to answer their call
GrandCentral could make a great number to give out to your grandparents too, for those who have trouble remembering your home phone, your cell phone, your spouse’s cell phone, your work phone, your spouse’s work phone, etc. GrandCentral will let you add up to 6 lines to your GrandCentral number, including Gizmo numbers. (What’s Gizmo? We’ll get to that soon.) So what are you waiting for? Oh yeah, that’s right, they’re not offering accounts right now. But you can still go put your name on the reservation list!