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10/16/2007
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Voice Mail Driving You Crazy? Get It In Writing

One of the newest convergence points of mobile phones and the Web is a group of services that convert your voice mail to text and send it to your e-mail in-box.


SimulScribe is another service clearly aimed at a business user. There are no frills, but there aren't any corners cut, either. The quality of the audio recording and transcription are matched by an easy sign-up process that includes an e-mailed page of clear instructions for configuring your call forwarding settings and voice mail account, and calling to check messages from your own phone or other phones. (It also covers using SimulScribe with landline home and office phones.)

SimulScribe offers a two-week free trial on its Web site. After that, its pricing is $9.95 a month, with 40 transcribed messages, and each additional transcription is 25 cents. Unlimited service is available for $29.95 a month.

Transcription: A. Simulscribe transcribed a short test message flawlessly -- even the dollar amounts and punctuation were rendered accurately. A longer message (you get one minute of message time) with some of vocalized hemming and hawing that are a part of everybody's normal speaking didn't do as well, but SimulScribe's software clearly flagged the words it was guessing at and still did an unequaled job of punctuation.

Playback: A-. The audio quality of recorded messages was equaled only by Jott among the services tested. Recordings are clear and well-modulated, without distortion or static or background noise. The message files can easily be downloaded from the Web-based in-box -- and you can even configure SimulScribe to deliver files in Wav, MP3, or GSM format. Unlike other services, SimulScribe requires you to install the Apple QuickTime player to play message files in the Web-based in-box.

Service: C. SimulScribe does what it does, and doesn't waste effort on extras -- but that may be an extra in itself. The Web in-box application is one clean screen with three tabs: Messages, Account Settings, and Self-Service. Incoming messages appear in the in-box when you log in or manually refresh the screen. There's no saved contact information, so messages are identified only by the caller's phone number, an introductory phrase, arrival time, and duration. (There is no mobile version of the in-box, as there is with GotVoice, but if you enter "http://m.simulscribe.com" in a browser you get back the cheery message, "Coming Soon!")

The Account Settings tab is equally Spartan, but with some interesting features. In addition to your account and billing information you can configure both e-mail and SMS delivery of message notifications and with a few check boxes set options for notification before transcription, attachment of audio and transcription files, and audio file type.

The Self-Service tab is the sparest of all -- just two buttons, one to resend the page of configuration instructions and service phone numbers to your e-mail, and the other to cancel your account.

Bottom Line: GotVoice, with its outbound messaging features, may be a better bargain for $9.95 a month if you're paying for voice-mail-to-text out your own pocket, but site licenses for business rather than single users are probably SimulScribe's marketing plan, and in the business environment its focus on the basics makes good sense. For individual users, a federation strategy might work well: Get SimulScribe for its high-quality recording and transcription, and use the free Jott service for messaging features.

Conclusion

The value of voice-mail-to-text transcription currently is in the management capabilities provided by "visual voice mail" -- seeing all your messages at once and being able to triage them quickly and efficiently. The transcription isn't yet accurate enough to depend on without reviewing the audio message as well. As accuracy improves, transcription will become more appealing to users who aren't overwhelmed by voice mail but appreciate the convenience of text.

This category of products is still so new that there's no standard set of features across the products. It would be great to have SimulScribe's accuracy of transcription and careful attention to ease of use combined with GotVoice's mobile desktop and integration with the service provider's voice mail services, Jott's messaging features, and CallWave's desktop phone-management application.

In fact, at this stage of their development, there's no reason to limit yourself to just one service. It's so easy to set up speed-dial numbers to switch your call-forwarding among services that you might use GotVoice while you're mobile to get voice mails on your provider's system, and, when you sit down again at your PC, switch to CallWave to take advantage of its call-switching features.

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