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We just got the first Google Voice update in over 5 years

David Pogue
Tech Critic

It’s a big day in Google Voice land.

Over 3.5 million people use this brilliant, useful, free Google (GOOG, GOOGL) service—and everybody else is missing out.

And yet it’s no wonder most people haven’t heard of Google Voice; its mother ship has been spectacularly negligent. Google bought the service in 2007, released it as a Google product in 2009—and basically ignored it ever since. Most fans feared that Google planned to kill off Google Voice.

But they’re not. Today, in fact, Google has begun rolling out a new version of Google Voice (for Android, iOS, and web). It’s been attractively redesigned, and it adds two crucial features it’s always lacked.

Before we get to what Google Voice has become, though, you might not even know what Google Voice is.

Here’s what I wrote in my New York Times review in 2010:

You pick out a new phone number. Anytime your friends call that number, all your phones ring at once: cell, home, work. One number to rule them all. People don’t have to chase you down anymore. (“I left a message for you on your cell—I’ll try you at home…”)

And now you have a single voicemail checkpoint: a private Web page, accessible from anywhere. Better yet, your voicemails are transcribed into text, which get sent to you by e-mail and/or text messages.

Then there are all the cool control features: “Don’t ring this phone on weekends.” Record a different voicemail greeting for each caller in your Address Book. And neither you nor your callers ever, ever hear 15 seconds of prerecorded instructions on using voicemail (“When you have finished recording, you make hang up… to page this person, press 5….”).

And all of it’s free. No ads, no fees, nothing.

And by the way: You can also place free phone calls from the Google Voice app. To any phone number in America.

What you couldn’t do—at least until today’s update, at least without involving Google hangouts—is receive photos sent in text messages. It was only text. And you also couldn’t send group texts.

Now you can. At long last, people can send photos to your Google Voice number, and you get it on all of your phones.

Google says that its days of Google Voice neglect are over. More features are on the way—including RCS (Rich Communication Suite), which is the next generation text-message format after SMS. (RCS eliminates the 160-character length limit and makes it easier to include photos and videos in your texts.)

It’s a great day for Google Voice. And if you haven’t yet tried GV yourself, then this is a great day for you to do so.

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the Web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email (http://j.mp/P4Qgnh).