One feature commonly found in Voice over IP services is of particular benefit to mobile professionals: unified messaging. That’s a five-dollar term for a feature that basically puts your incoming faxes, voice-mail messages, and e-mails in one convenient place: your e-mail inbox.
I’m a big fan of unified messaging, but I’m still on the fence about VoIP. So I tried two different unified messaging services, one from Onebox and another from MaxEmail. Neither requires that you use VoIP, and both are easy to use and inexpensive. Here’s the deal.
Onebox’s Executive Personal Reception service costs $17 per month, which gives you 100 minutes of incoming phone calls, voice mails, and faxes. You also get a toll-free number (but not a local one); calls made to that number can be automatically forwarded to one or more of your existing phone numbers.
You’ve got three options for listening to voice mail: by phone (but that defeats the purpose of unified messaging), by e-mail on your computer, and via your portable media player.
When you opt to listen to messages on your computer, your voice mail arrives as .wav files attached to e-mail. You can listen to them using Windows Media Player or any other media playback application.
You could also transfer your voice messages to a portable media player. Instead of listening to Twisted Sister on your Apple iPod, for example, you can listen to a voice mail from your twisted sister.
The Onebox voice mail I received sounded a tad fuzzy, and the volume was a little low. But this didn’t make the messages difficult to understand. Also, the messages arrived quickly: To test the service I left myself a few messages, and I received the .wav files a minute or less after hanging up.
A key benefit of receiving voice mails as .wav files is that you can archive them for future reference. And because .wav is a standard audio format, you can easily share voice mails with others.
With Onebox, faxes arrive as e-mail attachments in either PDF or TIFF formats. For mobile professionals, receiving faxes as e-mail attachments is practically essential. Why be bound to a fax machine?
Onebox Executive Personal Reception also offers a “simultaneous ring” feature, which is another benefit of many VoIP services. This feature lets you have incoming calls ring simultaneously on multiple devices–such as your cell phone and your landline phone, for example. You miss fewer calls, and your callers don’t get frustrated trying to track you down.
For more information, go to the Onebox site.
MaxEmail has similar services, but they are more limited than what Onebox offers. It costs only $9 per month, plus a one-time $10 activation fee.
I tested the MaxEmail Plus service, which provides a local phone number. The calls aren’t forwarded to your cell or landline phone; they go directly to voice mail. However, if you just need a local phone number for customers to leave messages, this could be useful.
As with Onebox, voice messages arrive in your e-mail inbox as .wav file attachments. The audio quality was a little fuzzy, but not enough to make messages difficult to understand. When I tested the service, my voice messages arrived quickly.
MaxEmail Plus also lets you receive faxes as PDF or TIFF files. Given the low fees, it’s worth signing up for even if you simply want to receive faxes in e-mail.
For more information, go to the MaxEmail Web site.
For comparison, the eFax Plus service, at $13 a month, routes incoming faxes to your inbox but doesn’t include voice mail. EFax does offer a free fax service, but it doesn’t give you a local phone number–and you can only receive, not send, faxes. The company’s eFaxPro combines voice mail with fax for $20 a month.
For details on eFax’s services, go to the company’s Web site.
Onebox, MaxEmail, and similar services don’t give you the full benefits of VoIP, such as the ability to slash your long-distance charges. Still, they offer an easy, inexpensive way to sample some of VoIP’s benefits.
Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips Tip: Listening to Voice E-Mail Attachments on a Treo
Receiving voice messages as e-mail attachments is extremely convenient, as I mentioned in this week’s feature. But what happens when you receive the voice mail attached as a .wav file to e-mail on your smart phone?
Palm Treo 650, 600, 700w, and LifeDrive owners can use Motion Apps’ mVoiceMail, a utility that lets you listen to .wav files attached to e-mails. In my brief tests on a Treo 650, I found mVoiceMail Pro easy to install and use. The program costs $20, and there’s a free trial. Download mVoiceMail for Palm or Windows Mobile from the Motion Apps site.
Notebook News: Gateway Returns to Ultraportables
Gateway’s 3.2-pound E-100M is the company’s first ultraportable in four years. The $1399 notebook has a 12-inch wide-screen display, an Intel Core Solo processor, integrated 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi networking, and your choice of a three-, six-, or nine-cell battery for up to 8 hours of use, according to the company. You’ll need to connect an external drive to watch DVDs, however.
Portable Entertainment: Cingular’s New Video Service
Cingular Wireless’ new Cingular Video service feeds the mobile TV junkie with snippets of The Sopranos, Lost, and other shows. The video service costs $20 per month, in addition to a Cingular voice plan. Clips of HBO shows cost an extra $5 per month. Is the cost worth it? PC World Contributing Editor Grace Aquino says the service would be nice to have, but she’d rather put her money toward watching HBO the old-fashioned way–on TV.
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.