There's been all kinds of talk about the web-based, all-in-one phone management solution GrandCentral since we first heard about it, but it's been closed to new users ever since Google acquired it. If you've been dying to see what all the hype's about but didn't get signed up for GrandCentral on time, today we'll take you step-by-step through everything GrandCentral has to offer. First off, here's a quick rundown of what GrandCentral is and what it does for those who don't know. The quick version: GrandCentral gives you one number that, when called, can ring all of your phones (or only certain phones, depending on your settings and the contact who's calling). It also provides you with one central voicemail inbox, including web access to your voicemail management along with the traditional voicemail checking via phone you're already used to. Best of all, it's completely free of charge.
First, let's talk about GrandCentral's bread and butter: the one number to rule them all concept. When you first join, you'll want to add your various phone numbers to GrandCentral. This gives you one single point of access for all of your calls, and just one phone number to hand out to contacts. That may seem like a terrible idea, but GrandCentral lets you determine what calls are routed to which phones. That way, if you handed out your number to a business contact, for example, only your work number will ring when they call your single GrandCentral number. With GrandCentral's advanced screening options, you can feel comfortable giving your phone number out anywhere.
On the other hand, when your mum calls, GrandCentral can ring just your home number and cell phone—or even every phone you've got, depending on how badly you want to talk to you mother. And when it comes to screening calls and spam calls, GrandCentral is smart. The service provides several ways to screen calls (which you can see in more detail below), including a very clever option to play the standard "This phone number is no longer in service" recording.
The actual GrandCentral interface is—well—kind of ugly, but luckily for them, it's got a lot of functionality packed in (and surely Google's designers are working on cleaning it up as we speak). Now that you've got a basic idea of GrandCentral's one-number concept, let's take a closer look at the nitty gritty.
Check out several different views of the web-based GrandCentral inbox and web management interface in the gallery below. Clicking the play button in your voicemail inbox will, obviously, play back that voicemail message, but it also drops down a ton of other functionality to help you act on that voicemail.
Before you play back a voicemail, GrandCentral displays the caller (clicking their name, if they're in your address book, takes you to their contact information), the time the call was made, and the caller's number. You can flag any message (I wouldn't be surprised to see this turn into a star once Google finishes re-branding it) and sort messages by any of the fields.
Once you play back the message, you can add unknown callers as a new contacts and adjust settings on your current contacts, including the phone type (home, cell, work, etc.) or group (family, friends, work, etc.—these will come in handy with GrandCentral's other features). If the call was from a telemarketer or someone you don't want to be able to contact you, you can choose to either mark the call as spam, play a "number not in service" recording, or always screen the caller next time the number calls.
The integrated email features are also pretty fair (though who knows where it could go if it integrates with Gmail). You can forward voicemails to any email address or reply to voicemails by email. So imagine getting an hilarious voicemail from a friend that you want to share with another friend, or you got a voicemail from your co-worker and an email reply would be more efficient than calling back.
Calling contacts from the GrandCentral web interface is as simple as clicking the call button and choosing which phone you'd like to route the call to.
Then of course when you're in calls, you can take advantage of features like ListenIn, which lets you listen to voicemail messages as they're left (like an old-school answering machine). Likewise, here are several other simple and worthwhile features you might want to take advantage of if and when you decide to become a GrandCentral user (and don't forget how you can get free calling anywhere):
GrandCentral is already an excellent solution to a problem that most of us didn't know we had, but I do have a few features and improvements I'd like to see. For example, the interface is atrocious. Most likely it'll get the regular Google treatment before it re-releases, meaning that—while it probably won't be snappy—you can count on it being clean and easy to navigate. Other features I'd like to see include:
- Integration with the new Gmail Contact Manager
- Reply to voicemail by SMS
- Map user address or phone number location rather than mapping the area code
Whether or not you've got access to a GrandCentral invite, you can reserve a GrandCentral phone number beforehand. If you've been using GrandCentral regularly, we'd love to hear about your experience in the comments. Likewise, if you haven't tried it, let us know whether or not you'll be reserving your own number and why.