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Product Review: “One Number for Life” service offered by GrandCentral
How many of you out there have only one phone number? I thought so. If you’re like me, chances are you tell people to call you at the office on weekdays, try you at the house after 6, on your cell if you don’t pick up at home and at the cottage on weekends. I know some people in my black book that have up to ten numbers listed under their contact info.
So what’s the problem with this? Well, the main problem is actually using this “contact info” to get into contact with the person! People change their contact numbers when they move, when they switch jobs, when they date a different girlfriend. Forget to keep your phonebook up to date, and you’ll find at least 25% of the numbers in there will be useless in reaching your buddy. In this crazy world of people constantly on the go and on the move, what can be done to restore some order into the contact page of your phone directory?
Enter the One Number for Life service by GrandCentral.com
Read on and I’ll tell how these guys put the “grand” in GrandCentral. All photos in this article are courtesy of GrandCentral.com
The One Number for Life Service by GrandCentral is exactly that: one number which consolidates all your other numbers; the mother of all call forwarding. This web-based service allows you to sign up for a “unified” GrandCentral phone number in an area code of your choice, and then link other phone services to this number. All calls to your GrandCentral number are automatically forwarded simultaneously to your other registered phone services, be it a land line, cellphone or office phone. Your buddies dial one number, but reach you at all of them. We’ll get into the logistics of this later on.
Some advantages are obvious: No more missing a call because someone called your cell when you were at home. With GrandCentral, your cellphone and house line ring at the same time. Also, forget about contacting everyone to tell them you’ve changed number after a move. Swap the new number into your GrandCentral home page and your buddies won’t need to update their Rolodexes... or even know that you moved for that matter.
GrandCentral comes in two very attractive packages: a free, ad-based subscription service which lets you add up to two numbers and a full service package that gives you all you ever wanted from a phone service and more (for a monthly fee, though).
These services also come with voicemail as a backbone feature; notification is via text message to your cellphone number and I’ll give you more details later on. There are no setup fees or the need to buy / rent special equipment. All you need is access to a computer with Internet to set up and manage your account.
There are features galore with both services, and GrandCentral was kind (or smart) enough not to water-down the freebie package. Not only are these guys the first big players on the market, but I believe it will be difficult for someone to play catch-up let alone out-muscle their market position anytime soon.
One important note is that GrandCentral does not replace your phone lines; it only “unifies” them. You will still have to pay for your cell, landline, VOIP etc. regardless of whichever package you choose, as this is basically only a souped-up call forwarding service meant to work with existing numbers.
GrandCentral is still expanding its coverage across the United States. Its US-based coverage includes local area code numbers in several states already, and will be coming to Canada within the coming months.
I was fortunate enough to play around with this service while visiting some relatives in Boston, who signed up recently for a 781 area code number. Needless to say, I will be counting down the days until GC goes live in Canada.
As mentioned above, GrandCentral currently comes in two packages. The base package is free, but is capped at 100 minutes per month, features advertisements when using the online control panel, has a 30-day save limit for voicemail and allows only a maximum of two lines to be collected under the unified number.
However, for 15$ / month (this is the US figure, Canadian pricing may vary) the time limits are lifted, the ads disappear and you can add up to six numbers. When you think about it, this is a pretty good deal as most people are already paying monthly fees for voicemail and other features which the GC package either already offers or will blow out of the water with something better. In the end, the average consumer may not only enjoy this product, but even save a bit more money when the bills are paid.
For those who are already drooling after reading the first few paragraphs, my recommendation when this service finally does arrive to Canada is to sign up for the free service, give it a test drive for a few months (hey, it won’t cost you anything) and see if it’s worth upgrading to the higher package.
Appearance and Design:
The web based GrandCentral page is well designed, easy to use and packed with features. There’s a lot of stuff at your fingertips, so it may get some getting used to.
My favorite feature is the voicemail box, which is designed and works like an email inbox. You can sort and classify the voicemail messages just as you would with your Outlook, and even forward messages as you see fir or download them and save them as audio files for posterity.
Eat your heart out, answering machine! This is a cleanly designed voicemail “inbox”.
You’ll find that the overall site is clean and easy to use. It may seem a bit bland to some and I look forward (if ever) to the day that there will be more ways to personalize the backgrounds and colour scheme (perhaps a downloadable version from your desktop?). The ads can be distracting at times if you have the free version (I guess that’s the point) but it’s definitely not worse than what you’d see browsing an online news site.
OK – so you sign up for a GrandCentral account… now what do you do? First thing is to choose a good “uninumber” – this is the one number for life that will be your portal to the world. As mentioned, local area codes are not yet available in Canada or some states, but service is expanding so some of you may have to be patient unless you want your neighbour dialing an out-of-town number to reach you. Perhaps another reason to wait is that vanity numbers are expected to be available soon for all those people who want to put 555-HOT-STUD and such on their business cards.
Next, link your numbers online. This is easy enough to do with the online utility but I would have liked to have more options on where and when the incoming call gets forwarded. There is a general “business hour” option, but a more specific “time” setting would have been good. For example, it would have been beneficial to send my calls only to my cellphone after 10pm. You can however direct all calls to voicemail or another number (hotel room when you’re out of town) at the click of a button.
Line up your numbers in a row and tell them where to go.
After your lines are set up, I suggest you start adding people to your contact book. The good news is that you can import contacts directly from online services such as Yahoo, Gmail or your email client on your PC. The advantage to entering everyone on this list is that GrandCentral automatically announces the names of these callers when you answer the phone (“Call from Average Joe”) and then allows you to choose how to handle the call.
Call handling works by four options. Pressing 1 allows you to accept the call, 2 sends it to voicemail, 3 sends it to voicemail but allows you to listen in on the message as it is being recorded, and 4 accepts the call and records it.
In my opinion, these features put call display or any other service provided by local phone companies to shame. My favorite is option 3 because it reminds me of good old fashion call screening with the answering machine at home. You all know what I’m talking about – you let the machine go on, crank the volume and listen to the message as it’s being recorded, then pick up the phone if you like what you hear or leave it for later if it’s not important. I always found this was one feature that was underestimated and unjustly left behind in today’s world of digital telephone gadgetry.
Option 4 is also a welcome innovation, although I feel a bit queasy in certain situations about talking to someone who may be recording me for who-knows-what reason (look at the whole Alec Baldwin fiasco). I’m also not sure what the legal ramifications are, but this is a somewhat handy tool to have in certain businesses, or if you want to record driving directions for later step-by-step playback. This option can also be activated anytime during a call, and recorded calls end up in your voicemail inbox and are treated like any other message (fwd / delete / save / etc).
Another great feature that takes a bit of time to get up and running but is definitely worth the effort is the incoming call options. You can have specialized music or a personalized greeting set up for different callers. Instead of listening to the phone ring while they wait for you to pick up, a business client hears Mozart, your best bud hears AC/DC and the girlfriend hears you say “hello gorgeous!”.
These personalized greetings will let you blow the boys away with heavy metal while clients get a professional business message.
What I like most about this feature is the ability to leave an “inverse voicemail”. Ever experience a time when you absolutely had to get in touch with someone before going out of range, but they weren’t answering their phone or their voicebox was full? With GrandCentral, you can at least record a personalized greeting and hope they call you when they get back and see they missed your call. Sort of like: “Hey, I’m going into a meeting all afternoon but I’m confirming that we’re still on for the movie at 7. See you there!”
One other feature that really had me head over heels is the ability to switch lines without requiring the person to call you back. At the touch of a button you can, for example, seamlessly transfer your call over from your cell to your house phone as you’re walking in the door to save on airtime minutes.
As for reliability, based on my somewhat limited experience with it, GrandCentral ran very smoothly on the web even with a low-end DSL connection. The site was never choppy and every call we tried did in fact make it through. I’m a bit curious as to how well the site has been braced against hackers, as I wouldn’t be too fond of having people rummage through my personal messages or start making calls to people on my contact list from my number.
Other Features and Fun Stuff:
Some nice bonus and specialized features are also available. For example, a “call me” web button is available to be added to your website, eBay auction or other html application. This is a great way to advertise your availability for potential online buyers or clients without spilling personal information.
Having people call you without advertising your number will cut down on the weirdos and spam while keeping you in charge of your phone at all times.
GrandCentral also offers a spam filter to keep telemarketers at bay. I’m not entirely sure how effective it is as this is still a relatively new system, but it is updated regularly based on spam reporting by its clients, meaning it should get better and better with time. The spam filter blocks the call from making your phone ring and delivers piece of mind.
I seriously believe this could be the best innovation in urban telecommunications since the inception of the cellphone. This is a pretty high order for me as I will admit that I’m usually skeptical when it comes to new technology in the telecommunications sector. In my opinion, the fruits of the digital mobile revolution such as text messaging and web browsers may seem impressive, but I find they really didn’t make life simpler or easier for the consumer. Instead, they only offer a few limited advantages while seeming to be yet another over-rated option or service companies push you to add onto your bill (watch streaming TV on your 2” phone screen? Give me a break).
This is why I give a lot of credit to the brains behind GrandCentral. They are able to provide an innovative service for free with reasonable services and useful features. True, 100 minutes a month may not be enough for everybody, but at 15$ / month I doubt those high mileage people will back down from upsizing. Especially if they decide to cancel a few overpriced features with their cell / landline companies to make up the balance.
I would have liked to test this system out some more to see if all the kinks are worked out, so I’m anxiously awaiting its arrival in Canada. For example, what number shows on your recipient’s caller ID when you make an outgoing call from one of your phones? Also, the phones all ring at the same time – so what happens if two people answer different phones at the same time … are all the features available? What happens if one person sends it to voicemail and the other decides to answer? Or, what if you’re already using one of your phones? This system is still relatively new so there are definitely some questions to be answered and I’m left wanting to know more.
• Unbelievable amount of innovative and useful features
• Obvious benefits for people with multiple phone lines
• Clean, efficient interface
• Affordable for paying customers
• Free version is an honest application, not crippled to encourage people to upgrade
• Works with most (if not all) types of phone lines and service providers
• Computer and internet required
• Relatively new, just got out of Beta testing
• Security looks strong, but is unproven
• Local phone numbers not available in all area codes yet
To sum things up, GrandCentral looks to be the real deal. I hope the Canadian service will be as reasonably priced as the American version and that features will evolve or be added over time. It’s very hard not to like this product, especially considering the average consumer can get it for free.
Average Joe’s Product Rating: 9.5 / 10
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