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Visual Voicemail Plus Is Mostly on the Money

By Patrick Nelson LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Jun 8, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Visual Voicemail Plus Is Mostly on the Money

Visual Voicemail Plus, an app from PhoneFusion, is available for free at Google Play, with voice-to-text service starting at US$1.99 a month. Visual voicemail functionality is the visual element in a voicemail application that allows text to be transcribed and displayed on the phone -- or more simply, message headers, or envelopes, are displayed textually in a list. Options often include push to email and SMS.

visual voicemail
plus phonefusion

It's been around in various forms since Apple's iPhone kick-started smartphone user interfaces into the 21st century. I've been using Google Voice's voice-to-text visual voicemail on my Sprint phone with some success, although the transcription can be hit-and-miss.

Google's Product

I can often pick out the gist of what's in a Google voicemail. For example, "My name is many calling from a I did get the plumbing company," is enough to tell me the plumbing company is calling me back, rather than a family member. That's even though it was a dispatcher called Michael (with poor diction) calling, not Manny.

Despite visual voicemail's sometimes amusing drawbacks, there's no way I want to go back to the days of the blinking light on the answering machine -- or indeed, the emotionally distressing non-blinking light. In fact, the opposite applies. I'm keen to see how far visual voicemail can go.

The Proposition

Visual Voicemail Plus for Android, published by PhoneFusion, is an intriguing proposition because it claims to manage your voicemails and your incoming faxes.

I was also keen to try out the caller-blocking feature that allows you to block specific callers from leaving messages. Plus, paid options include a human editor correcting errors in the transcriptions.

Installation and Options

Downloading and installing the app from Google Play went seamlessly and, as is the case with many of these types of services, managing the account on a PC was preferable to configuration via the phone.

You can really see how the UI for the Web-enabled PC is significantly more mature than mobile UIs in general. In this case I was able to rapidly understand the various paid options and account settings through the PC's browser, but the phone app was fiddly and first-generation mobile looking, although I like the logo.

Fee-Based Services

I whipped out my bank card and chose some features: removal of ads for a one-time fee of US$1.99; an hour of additional storage at a monthly rate of $2.50 (30 minutes is included free); the cheapest of the human correction service (at $3.99 a month for 30 messages a month with a maximum of 15 seconds per message and an additional $0.25 for additional messages); and free fax.

The package looked expensive to me, Google Voice being free.

The Test

My transcription test would be to imitate Michael to the best of my ability, and leave the same voicemail that he had left a few days before -- the one that was garbled by Google.

I had thought about asking Michael to perform the test in-person but decided that it would overcomplicate matters and conceivably result in a plumber showing up at my door again. Or, this being Los Angeles, a billing for voiceover services being rendered.

The Results

My Michael impersonation audio came through quickly onto the Android phone, including an obvious alert in the notification tray.

The transcription took about 5 minutes longer but was considerably more helpful than Google's. The human editor queried words, and used question marks to note uncertainty over anything I was saying.

It was a fair transcription based on the human's detachment from the actual scenario -- waiting for a plumber to show up. A second attempt was flawless.

Test faxes sent from PhoneFusion displayed perfectly within my phone's Quickoffice app.

I liked the integration of multiple phones into one voicemail management interface, including the theoretical integration of overseas numbers. I couldn't get the network forwarding setup to take on a foreign SIM card within the U.S., though.

Trouble Areas

Be aware that PhoneFusion's product works using conditional call forwarding -- you're disabling your carrier voicemail in "Settings" and forwarding on busy, no answer and so on to PhoneFusion's servers.

Some phones won't do this, including some pay-as-you-go setups. I was unable to configure the product on the UK T-Mobile SIM card installed in a Samsung Galaxy Y while roaming in the U.S.; or on a U.S.-based Sprint Motorola Photon that didn't have call forwarding within the "Settings" menu.

An H2O pay-as-you-go SIM configured for PhoneFusion worked in the Samsung. H20 uses AT&T's network.

Be aware also that the call forwards can eat into your minutes. Some carriers charge for forwarded calls.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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