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

These services offer extra such as forwarding calls to multiple phones or transcribing messages -- if you can score an invitation.

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YouMail is all about voice mail. Unlike the first three services in this roundup, it doesn't provide extras like forwarding incoming calls to your other phones, or the ability to set up multiple voice mailboxes like Phonebooth does. Instead, YouMail simply works as a drop-in replacement for the default voice mail system that comes with your mobile phone, organizing your incoming voice messages within a Web interface for you to listen to and archive.

Like the other services I've covered here, YouMail can automatically transcribe your voice mails. However, the terms of service are limited, and a bit complex. The free version offers only seven transcriptions per month, and each transcription only gives you the first minute of the call.


YouMail offers automatic transcriptions and apps for three smartphone platforms.

Click to view larger image.

Beyond that, you can choose from a number of packages, with costs running from $3.99 to $17.99 per month, based on how many voice messages you want transcribed every month. All YouMail says that all of its paid plans include the possibility that "your voice mail transcription may be human-edited." According to the site, the company farms out its transcription work to third parties, which use the machine transcriptions as a starting point.

Like Google Voice, YouMail lets you set up multiple outgoing voice messages, each of which you can assign to a specific incoming phone number. You can post a voice mail message to your MySpace or Facebook page as a playback widget.

If you don't want to record your own voice, YouMail offers over 1,000 free outgoing greetings you can use. Most of them are contributed by other users of YouMail, and range from sound samples lifted from movies or TV shows to voice actors speaking in a formal manner, which can be used to convey a professional image. There are also "premium" outgoing messages -- for example, gag clips of professional celebrity voice impersonators. Using a greeting by someone talking like, say, John Wayne or Austin Powers will set you back $1.99 each.

And if there are people in your life you just don't want to hear from, YouMail includes a service called DitchMail, which will play a greeting and then hang up on a specific caller.

YouMail is free, and sign-up is easy and fast -- and it doesn't require an invitation. "Pro" services can be added for $1.99 per month; they include toll-free customer support and increased online storage space for up to 5,000 voice mails.

There's a version of the YouMail site optimized for mobile phone screens. You can access your voice mail in-box and read transcriptions of your messages, but to listen to them, you have to download your voice mail as an MP3 file.

YouMail provides free apps for the Android, BlackBerry and iPhone. I installed the YouMail app for Android, which lets you access other folders besides your in-box (such as the Save folder) and listen to your voice mails immediately without needing to download a file. I found the user interface to be clear-cut and easy to use, but this app crashed a few times on the Droid Eris. Google Voice's Android app behaved much more stably.

Bottom line

YouMail might lack the neat extras of the other services in this roundup, but you can still use multiple outgoing greetings and assign each to specific phone numbers calling you. Plus, it provides apps for three of the major smartphone platforms. And, unlike the other three Web-based voice mail services I covered, you don't need to sign up and wait until who knows when to get an invitation to use it. YouMail is open to all right now.

Howard Wen reports on technology news, trends and products as a frequent contributor to Computerworld and Network World.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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