The battle for dominance in the voicemail-to-text field is heating up and PhoneTag (formerly known as SimulScribe) is coming out swinging. The idea behind the service is simple: voicemail that would typically go through your carrier gets rerouted through PhoneTag, which transcribes the message and pushes it out as either a text message or an e-mail to Alltel, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless phones—even to Skype. While it works well, PhoneTag is a bit skimpy on features, compared with similar services.
Getting started with PhoneTag was easy. We simply selected a carrier, and entered our name, address, e-mail, and credit card number. Unlike YouMail (but similar to VoiceCloud), PhoneTag doesn’t have a free service option. You can choose TagPerMessage (35 cents per message), Tag 40 ($9.95 per month for 40 messages), and TagUnlimited ($29.95 per month to use the service as much as you’d like). We received the welcome confirmation seconds later; inside was a code that we had to input into our phone to activate the service. Unlike YouMail, PhoneTag’s voice-to-audio and transcription services are tied together, which offers less configuration flexibility but is ultimately easier to understand.
PhoneTag, like its competitors, uses a simple Web interface that’s remeiniscent of an e-mail inbox. Voice messages appear as individual messages that you click to open. E-mail contacts can be exported as CDV or VCF files and uploaded to your Web account for quickly transferring numbers without going through the arduous task of entering them individually. PhoneTag converts voicemails into audio files (you can select whether they’re saved as MP3s or WAV files). These can be downloaded from the site itself when you log in (unlike YouMail, you can’t play it in the browser), or e-mailed to your inbox. We were able to reply to contacts via e-mail using the Web interface instead of picking up our mobile phone.
PhoneTag is powered by SimulScribe, which uses proprietary IBM voice recognition software and occasional real-time human correction to deliver transcribed voicemails to subscribers. Voicemails arrived as a text message and as an e-mail in about 3 minutes, which was more than acceptable given the accuracy—our messages were matched word for word. Inside each transcription is a handy key that attempts to help you understand anything that isn’t translated correctly (a single question mark indicates that a word is spelled phonetically; a double question mark means that the word wasn’t recognized at all). It accurately identified homophones (such as too, to, and too), and even tough names like Massapequa, but it got tripped up when the name Horatio was mentioned. As with VoiceCloud and YouMail, you can e-mail messages to others.
On the downside, PhoneTag doesn’t have a thriving community creating greetings as with YouMail; you have to use a standard greeting, upload an audio file from your PC, or do it the old-fashioned way by dialing into the service and recording your own greeting. Corporate accounts are also available, but these have to be set up by PhoneTag’s system integrators. As with its competitors, PhoneTag offers unlimited message storage.
As PhoneTag lacks a free plan, the value you get out of it depends on how often you’ll use the service. Sporadic users will like the pay-as-you-go 35-cents-per-message option, while the heavy user will appreciate the unlimited option. It’s not cheap, though: PhoneTag’s unlimited service is $2 more per month than YouMail’s unlimited offering, and $10 more expensive than VoiceCloud’s. If you despise the traditional voicemail format, PhoneTag is a boon for checking which messages are worth your time; if you’re an e-mail/text ninja, the transcription service will be quite compelling. While it’s the most expensive service, it’s also the most accurate.