capsule review

Pamela Professional

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Note: This review addresses The vendor claims that v4.7.0.65 is more stable; PCWorld has not yet tested these claims.

If you rely on Skype for calls to co-workers, family, and friends, take Pamela Professional for a spin. This Skype-certified tool is designed to help users get extra mileage out of Skype's services. Think of Pamela Professional as your communications assistant: The software lets you set up an answering machine with your own outgoing messages. It also records Skype calls--video as well as audio-only.

After installing Pamela, the program runs alongside Skype (although I changed the default so that Skype opens when I launch Pamela). For Pamela's features to work, Skype needs to be running.

Pamela's main screen--the central communications console--felt pleasing to the eye; the vertical list of tabs, appropriately labeled, is nicely spaced out. It took a few calls, though, to familiarize myself with the horizontal bar of multiple icons and remember what some of them represented.

During testing, any time I was on a call, I liked how Pamela automatically changed my "online" Skype indicator so that other contacts could see that I was not available. That way, I could limit others from pinging me on Skype when I was already yakking to somebody else. For Pamela to change my Skype status, I needed to keep my status to "online," otherwise, the feature won't work. If you'd prefer that Pamela leave things alone, you can tweak the settings easily.

I also liked how Pamela handled incoming calls when I stepped away from my PC. It would whisk off a text message, which would pop up on my contacts' machines, letting them know that I wasn't around--and asking them to leave a message. However, in my tests, Pamela's voice-mail often didn't pick up for callees: If contacts called using audio only, then the voicemail kicked in, but if fellow-Skypers contacted me with a video call, the call rang out and then stopped.

To record Skype calls, you can start recording during a call or right before you initiate one. During beta testing, I liked how a voice prompt and a text message advised contacts that the calls would be recorded. However, this feature did not crop up in the final version, which was disappointing.

Recording calls was uncomplicated. Pamela's default format is MP3, but you can change to WAV, WMA, or OGG in the app's Sound Options. Pamela does not restrict the recording time; you get unlimited minutes.

One big snag: the frequent crashes. While Pamela mostly remained stable, it locked up enough at various times to make me mad. (I tested the program on two Windows machines and encountered the lock-ups on both units.) Specifically, Pamela froze at the end of missed incoming calls and when I was clicking various icons. As I write this, Scendix Software, Pamela's maker, was investigating my crash reports.

When I played back the recorded calls in Windows Media Player, the overall quality appeared roughly the same compared to the live call, if a tad inferior. Pamela gives you the option of typing up notes with each recording. This searchable note-appending capability came in handy, as it helped individualize each recording.

Pamela also provides a number of other customizable features for Skype devotees: call scheduling, call transfer, personalized sounds and moods (not my thing), and more.

If you depend heavily on Skype at work or at home, and you need customizable recording and call management features, check out the trial version of Pamela Professional. For me, Pamela's instability and its voice-mail antics outweighed its usefulness. That said, if you're content with minimal recording options (that is, 15 minutes, tops), give the free version, Pamela Basic, a try.

--Aoife M. McEvoy

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