Traditional cell phone voicemail is bound to the handset you're using, which seems logical--until you've triedYouMail (opens in new tab). This service allows you to access messages in nearly any way you see fit: on the cell phone itself or online using a PC or Web-connected device, and in any manner that you please.
YouMail offers a staggering number of different service plans, ranging from YouMail Grab-It ($2.99 per month, or $29.99 per year), which lets you keep your carrier's voicemail number instead of it being replaced by YouMail's. YouMail Pro ($1.99 per month, or $19.99 per year) strips the interface of advertisements, ups the voicemail capacity to 5,000, and lets callers leave 5-minute messages (over the standard 1-minute) and uses YouMail's voicemail number to receive messages.
Finally, YouMail also offers Read-It, a transcription service that enables you to get text-based versions of voicemail messages. Like its other services, multiple options are available, ranging from free to $27.99 per month, depending on the number of transcriptions provided and whether you want a full or partial transcription (this Preview plans only transcribe up to a minute of a message). The service we reviewed, Read-It Unlimited ($27.99), also comes bundled with YouMail Pro for free.
Setup and Navigation
Signing up for YouMail service is as easy as selecting a service provider (AT&T, Immix, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless) and entering your e-mail address and phone number. YouMail will shoot a text message to you with an access code that activates the service via the Web (either on the www.youmail.com (opens in new tab) URL or the m.youmail.com mobile URL). It's worth noting that Sprint charges 20 cents per minute for call forwarding, while this is free with the other carriers.
YouMail's interface is very easy to navigate because it's designed like your e-mail inbox. You can even save, flag, block, or mark messages as spam. We were able to import our Gmail contacts (Hotmail, Yahoo, and a handful of other webmail services are also supported) and add photos so that we could use the visual voicemail to see at a glance who had called or left a message. However, a clunky and sometimes confusing contact database made organizing them into groups a bit of a chore.
Voicemail and Transcriptions
You can download messages as MP3s using the free, ad-based, voice-to-audio service, and even reply to those messages via text or e-mail, which was infinitely helpful as we didn't always have to reach for our phone to respond. This is an excellent option for those stuck in meetings, a movie theater, or other locations where talking on a cell is frowned upon. You can forward messages to others (as you can withPhoneTagandVoiceCloud), but YouMail gives users the ability to embed audio into blogs and Web pages.
Depending on the plan you purchase, you can have transcriptions arrive faster (with computer-based word analyzation) or a little later but with better accuracy (the latter is a premium option which utilizes human-based transcriptions), or read them online or in a text message sent to you phone.
On our tests, speaking at normal speed and volume into a phone, we were received pretty accurate transcriptions with both free and paid service options, but the premium $27.99 version was error-free (the free version couldn't differentiate homophones (two, to, and too) and didn't recognize words such as "Massapequa." Free computer-transcribed messages arrived within seconds, with the human-based transcription arriving in close to 5 minutes.
One fun feature of YouMail is the ability to select from thousands of free or paid greetings (which run the gamut from professional openings to user-created jingles), record your own with a mic, or upload an existing MP3 or WAV file that can be applied to individual contacts or groups. Unlike PhoneTag and VoiceCloud, storage is not unlimited, but you can download voicemails to your PC to store elsewhere.
If you're interested in visual-voicemail service, YouMail is a compelling option. It combines simple setup, accurate transcriptions, loads of free greetings and features for sprucing up your voicemail experience. Plus, its varied pricing options offer more flexibility than PhoneTag and VoiceCloud. At $27.99 per month, the premium plan is not the least expensive, but it's not the priciest, either. Considering all the services it includes, YouMail provides the best value.