Visual Voicemail, Part 2

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Last week I reviewed GotVoice, a voice messaging service that supplements an existing cell phone or landline phone service. GotVoice forwards voice messages to you as e-mail file attachments and can transcribe your messages into text, like the Apple iPhone's Visual Voicemail. You can quickly jump to the message you want and read it, rather than having to listen to each message sequentially.

This week I focus on Vonage Visual Voicemail. It's a different beast from GotVoice, in that it does not supplement a phone service. It's a service offered by Vonage, a Voice over IP provider. Like GotVoice, however, Vonage Visual Voicemail transcribes your voice messages into text.

You might be wondering why I'm reviewing a Vonage offering. The company has been on shaky ground lately, recently losing two of three patient infringement suits that Verizon filed against it and settling with Sprint Nextel. The company also was recently hit with another patent infringement suit, this one from AT&T.

Still, Vonage remains the leading VoIP provider for consumers and small businesses. I've been a Vonage subscriber since August 2006 and a user of Vonage Visual Voicemail for months, and I recommend both. While the company's future is uncertain, I don't think it's going away anytime soon. So read on.

The Backstory

Vonage Visual Voicemail is an add-on to the regular Vonage service, which costs $15 per month for up to 500 calls per month in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, or $25 per month for unlimited calls within the same areas. (Business plans are $40 to $50 per month.)

For 25 cents a pop, Vonage transcribes your voice-mail messages into text. The text is contained within an e-mail message, which can also include an audio file attachment of your message if you choose. You can have the message sent to up to five e-mail addresses. You can also have SMS alerts that include the voice-to-text transcription sent to up to five cell phone numbers.

Here's an example of how Vonage Visual Voicemail transcribed one of my messages:

"I just wanted to check in. I know you're out tomorrow. I send an e-mail this morning to see if you could do a call on Monday at 10 AM instead of 9:30. And I just haven't heard so I thought I try to check in with you. I will resend my e-mail and hope I'll from you tonight or tomorrow."

The transcription wasn't letter perfect, as you can see. It interpreted "sent" as "send," "I thought I'd try" to "I thought I try," and "hope I'll hear from you" to "hope I'll from you." Still, it was pretty close. As with this and most Vonage voice-to-text messages, the transcription was clear enough so I didn't have to listen to listen to the voice mail. And in a head-to-head with GotVoice, in which both services transcribed the same voice mail message, Vonage's transcription was more accurate.

But the Vonage service has its limits. Rather than tough it out through the entirety of a particularly rambling voice mail, Vonage transcribed only about three-fourths of it. I was instructed to listen to the voice mail to get the remainder of the message. That endless message was more than man or machine could endure, apparently.

Vonage Voice Mail on a Palm Treo

Unfortunately, the .wav file attachments that I received with Vonage e-mail alerts wouldn't play on my Treo 755p. Each time I tried to open an attachment, I received an error message: "This is not a supported .wav file."

Not all handhelds support all file formats. However, a $20 application, mVoiceMail5, promises to provide full support for voice-mail attachments sent via e-mail to the Treo 650, 680, 700, or 755p and other handsets. (I didn't test the product.)

I have no complaints otherwise, only kudos. My e-mail and SMS alerts arrived just a few minutes after the voice-mail message was left on my Vonage phone number. By comparison, the GotVoice Premium and Business services check for new voice mail every 30 minutes, and it sometimes took longer than that to receive voice-to-text transcribed messages.

Both Vonage and GotVoice speech-to-text services provide another huge convenience for mobile professionals in terms of returning calls. Callers often leave their phone numbers in their voice-mail messages. The voice-mail messages transcribed into text by Vonage or GotVoice and received on your smart phone hyperlink those phone numbers. Just click on the number in the e-mail message to call it. You don't have to write it down first, then tap it out on your phone's keypad.

Worth It?

If you're already a Vonage customer, I recommend signing up for Vonage Visual Voicemail. It's well worth the extra 25 cents per message.

Further Information

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Greenpeace Says iPhone Is Hazardous: The global environmental organization Greenpeace claims Apple's iPhone is full of hazardous chemicals. After disassembling an iPhone to see what's inside, Greenpeace uncovered two types of hazardous substances, some of which "have already been eliminated by other mobile phone makers," the organization says.

PC World on Your Smart Phone: PC World's news and reviews are now available optimized for Web-enabled wireless mobile devices, including Palm Treos, Windows Mobile smartphones, and RIM BlackBerrys, via AvantGo.

Microblogs on Your Phone: Google's acquisition of Jaiku is likely to raise awareness and use of microblogging. Like Twitter, Jaiku lets you send and receive brief bits of information to and from cell phones as text messages or via a Web browser. Both services are free, but currently Jaiku is available via invitation only.

I'm experimenting with sending out occasional mobile technology product updates via Twitter. Sign up to "follow" me and let me know what you think.

Suggestion Box

Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
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