After banning Google Voice (GV) as an app for over a year Apple has approved two third-party apps that aim to bring the GV experience to iPhone users. As a heavy user of GV for business, I’ve had to rely on email notifications and transcriptions when away from the computer. Transcription has come a long way, but it is still a long way from perfect. That along with having to go through Safari to make outgoing calls from my GV was becoming a tedious process.
Upon hearing that native apps were available to make the experience more satisfying, I immediately purchased both for my 3Gs 32GB running iOS 4.02.
After installing, both apps ask for your GV username and password to get started. I was up and running very quickly with GV Connect. GV Mobile+ kept returning at error which creator Sean Kovacs forewarned in the App Store where he stated “Please turn off ‘multiple sign-in’ on your Google account in order to prevent issues.” Not sure why GV Mobile+ can’t sign in without deactivating this feature whereas GV Connect has no issue.
Regardless, it was a nuisance because I wasn’t near a computer at the time of download and had to wait till later to change my Google account to accommodate the app. Keep this in mind if downloading while on the road. Kovacs mentions on his site that a future update to the app will “most likely” correct the problem.
Both apps have similar navigation buttons located at the bottom of the screen which I’ll breakdown and review:
When in Call/Dial mode both apps toggle from a T-9 dialer to the native address book with a search box to type in the name you’re looking for or scroll to the letter of the alphabet on the side to search by last name. When a name is selected the address card appears and you simply select the number you want to dial. GV Mobile+ will automatically start to dial the number whereas GV Connect will display the number along with the person’s name and the number association (home, work, mobile, etc). To start the call you must press the Call button. Some may find this annoying because of the extra step needed to make an outgoing call, but some may like it so as to confirm they’re dialing the right number. The GV Connect screen also displays the amount of credit you have on your GV account.
Just like when placing a GV call from a computer, when making an outgoing call through both apps a call from Google is initiated to your iPhone. When answered, GV begins ringing the party you’re trying to reach. Redundant? Yes, but it’s the way GV works and not a flaw of either app.
A very noticeable difference between the two apps is in the address book. GV Mobile+ has tab for favorites whereas GV Connect does not. The creator of GV Connect may argue that the app allows one to “star” numbers in the History tab, but this is only after having called, missed or received a call from that person.
ADVANTAGE: GV Mobile+
The SMS tab on both apps displays text messages sent to/from one’s GV account. One thing neither of them do is to thread all SMS msgs for a contact. Not sure if this is a limitation of GV, or the developers both chose to not incorporate. It can make for multiple conversations by/to the same contact. The iPhone’s native SMS app, in my opinion, does a better job by keeping all conversations indexed per contact.
GV Mobile+ displays the last 15 SMS conversations in a font size easy to read. The contact name (or phone #) associated with each conversation is displayed along with the how long ago the last msg was sent. Pressing the name/number will roll the screen to display the SMS conversation. A send box at the bottom allows for further SMSing to the contact. Press the SMS button to go back to a list of all conversations. An arrow located on the side of each conversation reveals a menu slider with two buttons: Call Back and Add Contact. This is nice if you want to quickly initiate a phone call to this person or add them as a contact.
GV Connect’s SMS panel has toggle buttons to display All, Unread, or Starred conversations. This comes in handy when trying to locate unread messages. You have the ability to “star” conversations and thus making them more accessible in the future. The main SMS screen has a smaller font that displays more of the last SMS in each conversation, but may be a little less easy on the eye for those who like larger type. Emoticons are displayed in all their glory making the experience of reading the messages more like the experience on a computer. Select a conversation to see all related messages. What you’d expect to see at the bottom of the screen is a Send Box to send a new message, but that’s not what appears. Instead there are three buttons: Call, Block Content, and Add Note. A button on the top right of the screen needs to be pressed in order to send a new message to the contact. Adding a note to a conversation will also show up when logging into GV from a computer. A nice feature to have
Noteworthy differences between the two apps: GV Mobile+ only displays the last 15 SMS conversations with no way of searching further back. GV Connect displays the last 11 conversations, but allows you to load older messages.
ADVANTAGE: GV Connect
GV Mobile+ displays only the last 15 voicemails with no option to search further back. The screen displaying the voicemails is easy to read thanks again to the slightly larger font. The contact name, time elapsed since call (hours/days) and a snippet of the transcribed message are displayed for each message. Select an arrow on the side and a menu slides out with three buttons: Call Back, Send SMS, and Add Contact (create new or add to existing). Touch the voicemail you want to review and it remains highlighted. A play button near the bottom of the screen starts the playback of the message with a slider showing the remaining time. To the right of the slider is Trans. button that toggles the screen to display a transcription of the message. A message may still be played back when viewing the transcription. Press the Speaker On button at the top right to have the msg played through the speaker phone.
GV Connect’s Voicemail has toggle buttons at the top of the screen for All, Unread and Starred messages. Once again, the app lets you “star” important messages and sort them quickly. Select a voicemail to roll to another screen that has transcription and playback options on the same screen in addition to Call, Block Contact, Send SMS and Add Note buttons. The speaker phone can be activated by a button on the top right of the screen during playback. The last 11 voicemails are displayed, but older messages can be loaded. Another great feature included is the ability to search voicemails by Contact, Message or Note.
The speaker phone playback on both apps seemed low (even when turning up the volume via the rocker switch)
ADVANTAGE: GV Connect
GV Mobile+’s History screen displays the last 20 GV voice calls along with time elapsed since the call in hours (over 48 hours will display days. Outgoing calls are in green, and incoming are in red. Pressing a number/contact will initiate an outbound call. Select an arrow to the right of the number and a menu slides out revealing a Call Back, Send SMS and Add Contact button. The Call Back button seems redundant.
The GV Connect History screen displays the last 20+ numbers with an option to load older entries. Colored arrow icons indicate whether the call was incoming or outgoing. A real nice feature is the distinction between missed calls and incoming calls that were picked up. Missed calls have a red icon whereas incoming received calls are blue. Outgoing calls have a green icon. Toggle between the outgoing, incoming received, missed calls and starred calls with navigation icons at the top of the screen. Select All to display all calls. There is a sixth icon with a blue circle that I can’t figure out what it displays. When I toggle it there is nothing displayed which only means I haven’t had an event in GV that matches it. If you know what it is for, please leave a comment below.
Again, the font size is smaller allowing for more information to be displayed like the name, number, type of number (mobile, home, office, etc) of the contact along with the duration of the call and a “Star” option off to the right. Selecting a number will roll to another screen that displays similar information and four buttons: Call, Block Contact, Send SMS, and Add Note. If a Note is added (or was previously added in one of the other screens or in GV from a computer), a note icon is displayed on the main History screen next to that number/contact.
I lamented before how GV Connect did not allow for Favorites to be tagged in the Call/Dial screen. Upon closer review of how the History screen functions, I see how Favorites can be created by “starring” them. I’m not sure if the creator intended it to work this way, but it is an option. As a work around, it takes more time to set up and seems counter-intuitive to have to go to History instead of the Dial screen to make a call.
ADVANTAGE: GV Connect
Both apps are equipped to change GV settings such as where to Forward Calls to (presets the user defines when setting up from GV), toggle Do Not Disturb, toggle Call Screening and Call Presentation. GV Mobile+ allows for the addition of multiple GV accounts that can be toggled like any other feature in the Settings screen. GV Connect users must log out, and then log back in to switch GV accounts.
Additional notable features of GV Mobile+ are setting a default area code and the ability to change the phone number to be rung when making outgoing calls (remember -when an outgoing call is initiated GV calls you first). From what I can tell, GV Connect can only select from numbers defined in the settings of GV. Changing the number on the fly would require logging into GV from a computer and adding it so it would appear as an option. Also, offline dialing is a feature that allows you to place calls when no data connection is available. Another extra is the choice of which navigation screen to default to when opening the app.
GV Connect displays your credit balance, grants access to selecting VM greetings (set up through GV website) and allows toggling for email notifications (VM, SMS and missed calls) as well auto refresh, new msg sounds and emoticons. You can even clear the message and/or audio cache.
ADVANTAGE: Toss up depending on what’s important to you
When messing around with both apps, I found myself gravitating more to the GV Mobile+ app because of some minor differences. The slightly larger font size on SMS and Voicemail screens along with a slightly better UI design made for a more aesthetically pleasing user experience. The additional touches needed to access certain functions in GV Connect was a slight annoyance. If I had no exposure to GV Mobile+ it probably wouldn’t be as big a deal. Ignorance can be bliss, but good design just feels better. Both apps crash from time to time which is also annoying, but a lot of apps seem to be doing that of late.
Because of those intangibles, I was leaning more towards recommending the GV Mobile+. The lack of Favorite/Frequently Called Numbers in the GV Connect app seemed to seal the deal. However, after taking the time to document the features of each, I’m realizing that GV Mobile+ is lacking a number of key features that the GV Connect has.
I applaud both developers, Sean Kovacs (GV Mobile+) and Andreas Amann (GV Connect), for their innovation and look forward to future updates from both of them.
When I purchased both apps the other day they appeared #9th and #10th in the Top Paid Apps. As of today GV Mobile+ has risen to #5 whereas GV Connect has dropped to #36. If you’re reading this review to decide which is right for you, I encourage you to look closely at the difference in features and choose accordingly.
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. As always I welcome your comments. Let me know if I missed something, or what your experience has been with either app.
UPDATE: rumor has it Google is working on an app for Google Voice. These two after market apps are going to have to integrate even more features if they want to remain viable (and profitable)
UPDATE: Since posting, Google came out with the “official” GV iPhone app. Read my take on how it stacks up with these 3rd party apps.