Artificial Intelligence driven Marketing Communications
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
If you’re a creative or other freelancer work, at some point you may start thinking twice about giving out your personal phone number to your clients or business contacts. Besides the possible privacy issues, do you really want your business connections to be able to call you at any hour of the day or night — and on the same number you give your family and friends? A new service called OpenPhonesays it can solve that problem by providing cloud-based business numbers for $10 per month.
There are, of course, several cloud-based services that provide secondary phone numbers which can be used alongside your primary carrier-based number. To begin with, there is Google Voice, probably the best-known such service, which gives you a phone number that is associated your Google account. Voice has been available from Google since 2009 (when the original service, GrandCentral, was acquired), and is still free; however, it hasn’t undergone a whole lot of updating since. Other services, such as Hushed and Burner, also provide separate phone numbers for reasonably low fees; they market themselves as alternatives for users who want temporary, easily deleted numbers.
OpenPhone, on the other hand, is pushing itself as a resource for independent workers or small businesses that want to separate their business and personal calls and texts. It distinguishes itself from Google Voice by touting its customer support, the availability of toll-free numbers, and the ability to have more than one number per phone. It is currently only available in the US and Canada.
You can sign up either on the web or on your phone (if you choose to download the Android or iOS app first); I signed up on the web.
To begin with, you get to choose a phone number. You can select any US or Canada area code; be aware that some codes will offer more choices than others. You can also, if you want, choose a toll-free number, or even try to find a number with a word embedded in it — I was able to find a number that had “0GYM” as its last four characters.
Once you’ve chosen a phone number, you create an account, and verify it with your phone’s carrier number (you can’t use another VoIP number, such as Google Voice). You then have the option of providing your company name, number of employees and which industry you’re in. (If you’re just registering as an individual, you can skip this step.)
OpenPhone offers a seven-day free trial, although you do have to provide your credit card data in order to sign up. After the trial, OpenPhone costs $10 per month for an Individual account. A Team account, which costs $15 a month, adds a dedicated account manager and priority support.
And then, if you haven’t already, you download the app to your phone, and you’re ready to go.
The interface is almost Spartan in its simplicity. The home page lists your recently-used contacts. If the person you want to contact isn’t there, you can swipe left to tap in the phone number, or swipe right for the features list, which includes access to your contact list.
OpenPhone has its own contact list, which you can sync with your phone’s. Once you’ve chosen the person you want to contact, you simply use the field at the bottom of the screen to send a text or the phone icon on the upper right to make a call. Records of phone calls and text messages for each contact are all on the same screen, making it simple to see all your previous conversations. You can also (via a menu) copy the number, block it or delete the conversation.
The apps has several nice options. One is the ability to set business hours; calls that come outside of your set hours will go straight to voicemail, and you can record a separate voicemail for those hours (such as “Our office is currently closed, but leave a message, and someone will call you back in the morning”). You can also forward calls to another number if, for example, you are going on vacation and want someone else to get the calls. A “Do Not Disturb” feature lets you temporarily mute calls.
You can have as many as five phone numbers associated with your carrier number (Google Voice only allows one). It’s very easy to request another number straight from the features menu, but be aware that you’ll pay $9.99 for each additional number.
I tried out OpenPhone and found that service worked perfectly well. In fact, the quality of the voice calls, using an internet connection, was better on my end than my usual Google Voice calls.
Anyone trying out this service should be aware that it is still very new, and this shows. To begin with, the feature set is still a bit tentative. One example: OpenPhone boasts that it lets you you can link your OpenPhone number to your phone carrier rather than Wi-Fi or your data plan. However, there are still so many restrictions attached to this method that it’s not really viable: you can’t make outgoing calls, you can’t attach more than one number to your carrier number, and it’s only available for iOS phones.
In addition, there were a few coding glitches that popped up here and there. After my couple of calls, the names of the two contacts I had recently contacted were garbled together on the main page. Once I closed and opened the app, that resolved itself; still, something like that is a sign of an app still in development.
There are other cloud-based business solutions out there with more features, but they tend to charge $30 / month per user or more. For freelancers and startups, OpenPhone could be a good way to provide yourself with a separate business line. Just be aware that, since it’s a startup, there could be an occasional hiccup along the way.