Native Google Voice apps are back in the App Store! Shortly after Apple’s release of its Review Guidelines earlier this month, Sean Kovacs, the developer of one of the first native Google Voice apps, stated that he was planning to re-submit his app to Apple. Kovacs’s GV Mobile had been in the App Store previously in early 2009 but was removed that summer since it was deemed to “duplicate features that come with the iPhone.” An updated version of his app, GV Mobile +, was approved over the weekend, along with another Google Voice app, GV Connect, by Andreas Amann, developer of the Google Voice widget for Mac OS X and other iPhone and Mac applications.
While both apps provide the same general functionality, there are nonetheless some differences between them and we’ve taken a close look at both to help you decide which one to buy.
Note first that you need a Google Voice account first to use either app – accounts are free and can be requested here (Google Voice is currently only available in the U.S. only). If you’re not familiar with Google Voice, Google provides a number of overview videos on a special Features page. In short, Google Voice is a free service that provides users with a phone number, advanced call management features, voicemail transcription, and free text messaging. Contrary to what those unfamiliar with the service might think, it is not a VoIP service.
Set-up and Settings
Both apps require you to first log into your Google Voice account in order to do anything. While this doesn’t matter when it comes to each app’s functionality, GV Mobile + provides a slightly more welcoming introduction when the app is first opened.
The log-in/intro screen in GV Connect (left) and GV Mobile + (right)
The key to getting Google Voice to work the way you prefer (which phones will ring for incoming calls, choosing how calls are screened, which voicemail greeting is used, etc.) is through the service’s settings, of course. Both apps allow you to select the phones that should ring with incoming calls, enable/disable the Do Not Disturb function, and change the Call Screening and Call Presentation settings.
Settings in GV Connect (left) and GV Mobile +(right)
GV Connect goes a bit further here, offering more customization and visibility of the service’s settings, including displaying the current credit balance available for international calls, turning voicemail transcription on and off, enable/disable email notifications for new voicemails, text messages, and missed calls, and more. In this respect, GV Connect has the edge over GV Mobile +.
It is possible to have more than one Google Voice account and GV Mobile + is the only one of the two apps that allows you to log in to more than one account and choose which one to use.
Both apps present a virtual dial pad that looks similar to the one in the iPhone’s Phone app. Each app also lets you access numbers already in your iPhone’s Contacts list, though GV Mobile + limits you to the current active Group while GV Connect lets you access all Groups.
An individual contact in GV Connect (left) and GV Mobile + (right)
When it comes to calling a saved contact, GV Mobile + saves you one step by initiating a call right after you select the number to dial. GV Connect only displays the selected number in the virtual dial pad’s number display and requires you to press Call to initiate it.
The dial pad in GV Connect (left) and GV Mobile + (right)
Both apps place a call to you first (you can change the number the service calls you at within each app), which you answer using the iPhone’s phone app, and Google Voice handles the connection to the phone number selected. GV Mobile + is the only one of the two to offer an Offline Dialing setting which allows you to place a call if you have no internet connection. UPDATE: Reader John points out in the comments that GV Connect automatically switches to an Offline Dialing mode when no internet connection is available.
Calls made with both apps will show your Google Voice number in the Caller ID information on the receiving end.
Both apps offer a History tab that shows all recent incoming and outgoing calls. While GV Mobile + shows a simple list, GV Connect provides a search bar and sorting to make finding a specific entry a little easier.
The History in GV Connect (left) and GV Mobile + (right)
Both apps present a very straightforward interface for text messaging, showing your text message history and conversations in a threaded view as found in the iPhone’s own Messages app. New text messages can be addressed using the Contacts list (GV Mobile + lets you select contacts from all Groups here, unlike the behavior it exhibits when making calls) or manually by entering a number through a virtual dial pad.
A new SMS in GV Connect (right) and GV Mobile + (left)
GV Connect has a slight leg up here for avid texters in that it offers a character count to let you know where you stand in relation to the maximum of 160 characters that can be included in a single text message.
SMS history in GV Connect (left) and GV Mobile + (right)
Google Voice will automatically transcribe received voicemails into text, and while this is quite handy it’s often fairly inaccurate, sometimes hilariously so. This transcription is done by Google and neither app has anything to do with the actual transcription, though both will display them. GV Connect does so a little more readily, showing the full transcription when you tap on a message, with the audio playback controls at the bottom of the screen. GV Mobile + makes the audio playback of a selected message easiest to get to, and the transcript is shown in whole on a separate screen when you tap on a small “TRANS.” button in the lower right corner.
The voicemail transcription view in GV Connect (left) and GV Mobile + (right)
Both apps will play audio of recorded voicemails over the earpiece speaker, speakerphone, or wired headsets. Neither app plays audio over a Bluetooth headset.
The main Voicemails tab view in GV Connect (left) and GV Mobile + (right)
Both apps offer a comprehensive native interface for Google Voice on the iPhone though there are a few areas where you may be drawn to one over the other. If you regularly use more than one Google Voice account, GV Mobile + is the only app that will let you do so easily right now. If you absolutely need a character counter for text messaging and want more in-app control over more of Google Voice’s settings, GV Connect is the app you need to get. While it’s a small preference that has no bearing on an app’s functionality, we find GV Mobile +’s icon to be more polished and pleasing to the eye compared to GV Connect’s.
Unfortunately, neither app offers push notifications to let you know immediately when new text messages or voicemail messages have arrived. Sean Kovacs, GV Mobile +’s developer, has indicated in his blog that this is planned for a future update. For us, neither app feels entirely complete without push notifications and this will be a deciding factor. For now, GV Connect’s ability to control more of Google Voice’s settings, history searching and sorting, and text message character count give it more of an edge over GV Mobile + though the we admit that our purely superficial sides really prefer how the GV Mobile + icon looks on our iPhone 4′s home screen.
Both GV Connect and GV Mobile + cost $2.99 in the App Store. After Apple removed GV Mobile from the App Store in the summer of 2009, Kovacs started making his app available to jailbreakers via Cydia and he’s offering these users a chance to avoid paying for the app again by offering it for free on the evening of Saturday, September 25.