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4 free Web services let you hear -- and see -- your voice mail

By Howard Wen
May 3, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Phonebooth

Like Google Voice, this newcomer to the Web voice mail market gives you a phone number to forward incoming calls to your mobile or landline phones and offers automatic transcriptions of voice mails. Phonebooth comes in both free (Phonebooth Free) and paid (Phonebooth OnDemand) versions.

However, Phonebooth lacks text messaging and management features, such as a tool that saves and organizes your contacts.

Phonebooth
Phonebooth lets you forward incoming calls to the phones of different people in your organization.
Click to view larger image.

Still, even the free version of Phonebooth offers a feature that sets it apart from Google's service: It lets you set up multiple voice mailboxes and list them under different names or departments. You can also create a voice mail tree (as in "Press 1 to reach our sales department; press 2 to reach customer service...") and thus make your phone presence "sound like a legit company" (as the Phonebooth site puts it).

Phonebooth Free allows you to add up to 50 users under one account. Calls to each user's voice mailbox can be forwarded to one or two of that person's phones simultaneously. This means you can link up to 100 phone numbers to a single account.

This sounds impressive until you understand why Bandwidth.com, the company behind Phonebooth, lets you add so many users -- that's how they make money. With the free version of Phonebooth, you're restricted to 200, non-rollover minutes every month allotted for inbound calls. If you need more than that during a particular month, you'll have to pay 6 cents for each additional minute.

The people you add to your voice messaging network can be granted limited password access to it by you, so they can maintain their own voice mailboxes (i.e. record their greeting message, update their forwarding number, listen to their messages).

The Web page for user accounts in Phonebooth Free includes just the few icons ("Users," "Groups," "Auto Attendants," "My Voice Mail") you click to build your virtual office phone network and access your voice mails. This is not bad -- it means the site is quite easy to use. Adding people from your business or organization and building a professional-sounding voice mail network is a simple process of clicking buttons and filling in text boxes with their names and phone numbers.

Phonebooth sample transcription

The original:

Hello. I called to leave this message to test the transcription feature of this Web-based voice mail service. This service can take the recorded words spoken by a caller and convert them into text, doing so automatically.

The transcription:

Hello I called them leave this message to test a transcription features as web base voice mail service the service to take the record word spoken about a caller convert them into text doing for long.

A paid Phonebooth OnDemand account costs $20 per month. It includes unlimited local and long distance calling, plus conference-calling through the Web. It also offers the ability to forward toll-free and international numbers you own to your account; support for linking office phones (like conference phone systems and Polycom brand IP phones); detailed call records; and 24/7 customer support.

Phonebooth doesn't presently offer any smartphone apps, and it doesn't have a mobile device-formatted version of its Web page.

Bottom line

The standout feature of Phonebooth is that you can easily set up multiple voice mailboxes and have incoming calls forwarded to the phones of different people in your organization or business for free. With it, you can build and maintain a virtual office phone system that works through the Web.



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