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Your BlackBerry smartphone certainly is convenient. After all, it lets you be in constant contact from anywhere, at any time. That's great--when it's okay to be disturbed. And if you don't want to be disturbed, well, you can just turn the phone off, right? Sure, if you don't mind missing an urgent call. That's where Qwell (free, formerly $4/month) can help: this app and service let you block certain incoming calls to your BlackBerry phone, while allowing callers who need to speak with you urgently to get through.
When you sign up for the service at Qwell.com, it sends a download link to your BlackBerry phone. (Right now, Qwell works only with BlackBerry phones in the U.S., but the company plans to release versions of the app for the iPhone and Android-based phones soon, and says an international version is in the works, too.) I tested Qwell on T-Mobile's new BlackBerry Curve 3G, and had a slight problem getting the app up and running. The folks at Qwell helped me adjust the phone's SIM settings, and then I was able to run the app without a problem.
Once Qwell is installed, you can turn it on whenever you don't want to be bothered by incoming calls. If you receive a call when the app is on, your callers will hear your recorded version of your name, followed by the message: "...is not taking calls at this time. However, if this is an urgent matter, press 9 and we will connect the call. Otherwise, press 1 to leave a voicemail." The male voice is slightly stiff-sounding and a bit robotic, but is not difficult to understand. You can't change it, though, and if your callers are not familiar with Qwell (and most of them likely won't be, at least the first time they call), the message can be a bit jarring. That's because the phone doesn't ring at all; after a brief pause callers hear the recorded message. If they don't press any buttons, the message will repeat once. After that, the call is disconnected if the caller doesn't select an option. The first time a caller is confronted with Qwell, it could take them by surprise, but after they've heard the message once, any confusion will be gone.
If your caller decides he or she needs to speak with you urgently, you'll see a pop-up message on your screen alerting you to an urgent incoming call, and depending on your Qwell settings, you may hear an automated voice notifying you of the call as well. Qwell's "Normal" profile offers this spoken notification, which can be quite loud; I'd recommend using the "Vibrate" profile, which makes no sound other than the phone vibrating, if you're in a quiet environment.
When an urgent call comes through, you can choose to accept the call or decline it, using two icons that appear on the screen. If you decline the call, your caller will then be able to leave a voicemail. You'll receive e-mail notifications of any new voicemails that you receive while using Qwell, and those left by callers who tried to break through with urgent calls are marked as such. Audio files of the voicemails are included as e-mail attachments, so you can listen to them if you're away from your phone.
Qwell is very easy to use and works as advertised. If you rely on your BlackBerry for calls, but are feeling a bit overwhelmed with its ability to keep you in constant contact, Qwell can certainly make your life more manageable. It's a more elegant and streamlined solution that trying to manage calls yourself by silencing your phone and monitoring your voicemail inbox.
Editor's Note (10/13/2010): When this review first posted, Qwell cost $4/month after a 14-day trial. The company has since elected to make its service free.