Sunday, March 7, 2010
How's That Quest Going?
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MARCH 7, 2010 (on a blog hosting site that's not very friendly about exporting their data)
OK, maybe this hasn’t been a pot-boiling cliffhanger, but I’ll have you know that more than a few people have asked me that very question lately. In my last post I promised to embark – and report – on a quest for the zero-minute month. Through the magic of some cool new technologies I was determined to get my monthly cell phone “anytime” minutes down to a bare minimum, if not completely zero.
How’d it go? Well (my old journalism professor would admonish me for “burying the lead” here) but I got pretty close. The goal wasn’t to stop talking on the phone, or to stop using the cell phone, but rather to incorporate the use of some readily available technologies and services into my daily routine to minimize the use of AT&T’s anytime minutes on my plan.
In the end I found that there were two really critical tools that reduced my anytime minutes by a ridiculous amount. The others were helpful and came in handy on numerous occasions but using just two – AT&T’s A-List and Google Voice – produced the majority of the reduction.
For those of you that don’t recall what these two do, AT&T’s A-List is like a favorites list that allows you to make or receive calls to/from a particular number without it effecting your anytime minutes. It can be a landline or mobile number and you get five A-List numbers if you’re on an individual plan and 10 if you’re on a Family Plan. The only requirement is that you have to be on one of the plans just a notch above their very lowest monthly plan.
Google Voice is a great way to manage calls – both inbound and outbound – by using either a number that Google issues to you or by porting a number to Google Voice. You get a panoply (I always wanted to use that word) of features including things like converting your voicemail messages into text and having them sent to you via email or SMS. You can see histories of your calls, messages, text messages and much more. It’s one of those things that is much more easily explained by trying it than by reading about it. You can watch a pretty cool and quick video about it HERE. You’ll still need an invitation to participate but it’s worth it.
Combine the two of these – the A-List and Google Voice – and it’s a powerful combination. Just put your Google Voice number on you’re A-List and any calls that come in from that number or are made through it don’t hit your monthly minutes.
I figured out a couple of easy ways to do this. One simple one is a great little widget for Macintosh users called GV Connect; it automatically syncs with your Address Book or Google contacts list and allows you to do a quick search and find the number you want, just hit the Enter key and it calls your phone (you pick which one you want to have it call by setting up the choices on the Google Voice web site) within a couple of seconds. After a little practice with it I was able to switch to my Dashboard, type in the name that I was looking for and then hit enter in a couple of seconds (I have keyboard shortcuts set up for a lot of this stuff so it’s pretty fast for me – it might take someone using a mouse a few more seconds to do it). The call came through to my phone faster than I could have gotten into the phone app on my iPhone, switched to Contacts, scrolled or searched to find the number I wanted to call and then hit the call button. It became so easy that it was actually less hassle than using the phone by itself.
The other interesting gizmo I used to facilitate a lot of this is an extension for my preferred browser, Firefox, called (duh) Google Voice Add-On for Firefox. Once that extension is added to your browser any phone number appearing on any web page becomes a clickable link; click it and the same process occurs – it initiates a call through the Google Voice system that then rings my phone and connects me to the number that I wanted to call.
I did use my Skype outbound account occasionally, too, when I knew that I was going to be on hold for a while and just preferred to use the computer’s built-in speakerphone instead of my Bluetooth headset or weaker speaker on my phone. It works just fine and is a terrific option to have; at $3/month I’ll be keeping it, too, for those times when I either don’t have my phone handy or just want to talk to the computer instead of using the handset (no cracks, please, about talking to my computer… don’t you talk to yours?).
And now for the number you’ve been waiting for… my normal usage went from roughly 1000 minutes per month to (drum roll, please) 32 minutes. Yup – that’s no typo. And I have to tell you I hardly broke a sweat doing it. Adding the numbers to the A-List that I call and stay on the phone with for lengthy calls and then adding the Google Voice number to that list, funneling my calls out of and in through Google Voice, had an enormous impact.
In the future I will continue using the A-List and Google Voice. I also intend to get one of the new AT&T femtocells (discussed in an earlier blog post) to improve the coverage at home and will probably buy their $10 unlimited-at-home calling plan.
The difference, just by paying attention to what you’re doing, can be hundreds, or if you’re a really heavy user, thousands of dollars per year. Adding the convenience and feature set of Google Voice to the equation makes this a slam dunk… if you’re a power phone user and on any of the major carriers (they all have plans similar to the AT&T A-List) and want to get control over your calls, reduce your minutes and take advantage of that panoply (wow – twice in one post!) of features, this is the way to do it.