I’m not a big phone fan – I don’t like to call people, and not a lot of people call me (email and IM mostly serve that function). Still, the phone is a necessity in today’s world, so there’s no escaping it. And like it or not, most of us have a home phone, a work phone and a cell phone, and all of these have voicemail to manage. With all that, and the few calls I get and make, I still get annoyed by some of the limitations I’m faced with in managing these. Enter GrandCentral.

One thing to note, first, however: I got my invitation to the closed beta yesterday, so I’ve had my account less than a day. And while I’ve spent a good deal of time poking around the interface, recording greetings, uploading my contact list, etc, not too many people have the new number yet, so I won’t be claiming it changed my life just yet. The potential is definitely there, though. Read about my initial impressions after the jump.

The sign-up process was painless: pick a username, password and PIN, and then either an area code or state choice. I chose an area code, so I was presented with a list of 5 potential (and available) phone numbers, with their vicinities shown on a map). You can request another 5 and go back and forth. After some deliberation, I chose a number that was where I lived, and had the same prefix as our home number. This took me a while to decide, as theoretically, this could be my last phone number!

Once chosen, you enter your other phone numbers, and choose one to have the system call you to verify the account (you’re given a numeric code to enter when you get the call). And that’s it! You’re off and running.

From what I’ve seen and used so far, the interface to get at everything is really great, with some really nice features (the voicemail interface is particularly well-done). One of the first things you’ll notice is the liberal sprinkling of “call” buttons everywhere (and this not only for your contacts’ numbers: some of the setup, such as recording a greeting, will ring the phone of your choice, and when you answer, you’re already at the correct spot! No more navigating those phone menus! Nice.). When pressed for a contact, you are presented with a list of your phones (along with the ability to enter a temporary number). Selecting one of these rings that phone, and when you pick up, then rings the other party.

Of course, the whole point of this is to manage calls, so a large part of the setup is determining which callers ring which phones. This is done either individually or by caller group. You’re currently only given four groups to work with (Family, Friends, Work and Others), but a FAQ entry hints at more (and hopefully custom!) groups in the future. Voicemail greetings are also done by groups (although the default is one greeting for all callers). Once nice thing they’ve included is what they call the “QuickRule”. When on, all calls can either be sent directly to voicemail, or a temporary forwarding number.

What I am hoping to see in the future with the call management is the ability to fine-tune the rules: “if a caller (or a particular group) calls between these times on these days, do this, else if the same calls the other times, do this, else do something else”. That, and the ability to say, ok, everything rings just my cell phone for the next few hours/days, etc. There’s no FAQ entry on this, so I’ll be submitting that as a suggestion.

When you receive a call from someone via your GrandCentral number, you first hear the call announced, and you’re given four options: to take the call, to send the call to voicemail, to send the call to voicemail and listen in (with the ability to then optionally take the call anyway), or to take the call, and record it (you can also record a call at any time during the conversation).

As a quick overview of the other features, you have the ability to change the ringing sound people hear when they call you (including some rather humourous voice-based sounds), some call screening options (what to do when unknown names/numbers appear), how to notify you of voicemail, what to do with “phone SPAM” (“sorry, this number is not in service”!), what to display for caller ID, and some web integration features.

The service is still in beta (it’s now a Google property, so no surprise there!), and it sounds like the team is working hard on new features. I’m looking forward to getting everyone using the new number, and I’m pretty excited to see what’s in store for the service. Which is a pretty big deal for me: we’re still talking about phones here!

Oh, and if you’re reading this, know me, and haven’t heard about my new phone number yet, you can expect a call! Well, ok, an email, at least…