While each of these services offers similar features, not all visual voicemail interfaces are created equal. It’s come time for us to sort through these four and pick the best. We’ll rate them according to four categories: User interface, cost-benefits, transcription accuracy, and extras.
User Interface: SimulSays
Of all the visual voicemail services I tried, SimulSays is the only one with a dedicated application. This, to me, is what sets it apart from the rest. When you miss a call, the SimulSays application gives you a notification. When the caller leaves a voicemail, you can click right over to that application to listen to it or read the transcription.
That isn’t to say that all four services don’t have decent interfaces. They all have intuitive Web dashboards, and it’s hard to rate which was better on that level. But SimulSays took it to a higher level with the BlackBerry application, whereas the others either required you to use your browser, or otherwise didn’t offer a dashboard on your BlackBerry at all.
It’s tough to not pick a free service for this. YouMail provides a quality notification system with an easy-to-read mobile Web interface for retrieving your voicemails. This is essentially what the other three offer. Since YouMail is free, they win in this regard. However, there are certainly some pitfalls to going free. For instance, the transcription service was horrible. You can’t expect much from a free service, but having the transcription added little or nothing to the experience. After a few days of having YouMail running, I noticed that some phone calls were not going through, and messages were being delivered to me in bundles, rather than as they were sent.
This led me to discontinue use of YouMail. So in some respects you get what you pay for. But since you’re paying nothing, the services YouMail does well with — that is, the visual voicemail interface — are valuable.
Transcription Quality: GotVoice
This was a landslide. No company, not even SpinVox, came close to GotVoice in transcription accuracy. My first few messages through GotVoice were so accurate, actually, that I had to call up someone from the company and make sure a human wasn’t receiving my messages and typing them out. Instead, I found out that humans have as minimal contact with the messages as possible. GotVoice does value message privacy and security. That isn’t to say that SimulSays and SpinVox don’t offer quality transcription services. They do, but they just can’t play on the same level as GotVoice.
It’s like a team that finished 9-7 in football. Yeah, they were good, and might have even made the playoffs. But they’re simply not on the same level as the team that went 12-4 and has a first-round bye. That is GotVoice.
It was easy to see this coming, seeing as the other three already took home categories. Then again, when giving out awards for extra features, SpinVox wins in as much of a landslide as GotVoice wins for transcription. They offer mass messaging, voice memos, and blogging capabilities, right from your BlackBerry. GotVoice actually offers similar services. So how does SpinVox win in a landslide?
Because GotVoice offers the service from their Web interface only, while with SpinVox you have different phone numbers set up for your Blast, your memos, and your blog updates. So if you’re away from the computer, you can still send out a mass message telling everyone that the game has been changed from 6:00 to 7:00.
Best in Show: GotVoice
It would be a bit unfair to pick four categories and then put each of the four services into one each. While it can give you an idea of what each service does best, it doesn’t let you know which is the best overall.
This comes down to a matter of opinion, but I have GotVoice by a hair. The real reason is that I didn’t even need a BlackBerry interface with them. Their transcriptions were so accurate that I could just read my voicemails and respond accordingly. There was no need to play them back. And if I needed to, I always got that email with the WAV attached, so I could play it on my BlackBerry Media Player.
Working with these four services was a lot of fun mixed with a bit of frustration. I enjoyed testing out the various systems and seeing how well each one worked. I’d have my friends call and leave voicemails in funny accents, and use uncommon and difficult to understand words like “schism” to test out the transcription and delivery services. And I’m sure they all loved me when I sent out a mass text message announcing that I was going shopping that afternoon.
The frustration stemmed from receiving far, far too many notification messages. Most of the time, I was able to find a feature within the service which let me cut down or cut out notification text messages. It was especially frustrating to get a transcription through SMS that was seven or eight messages long. Only a few of the services offered to truncate them after a certain number. Still, each of the services represented an upgrade over my carrier’s voicemail system. No longer did I have to hold down the “1″ key and listen for a prompt to enter my password, then sit through all of my voicemails before getting to the one I wanted.
With the visual system, I can just click on the one and listen to it, without having to sift through any of the others. It’s quite more than a mild convenience. I’d suggest trying out any of the four. As you can see above. they specialize in different aspects.