by Jeffrey L. Wilson on February 27, 2009
If you find traditional voicemail at best an anachronism, and at worst a time sink, VoiceCloud provides an inexpensive way to manage your messages better. While its all-you-can-eat service may not offer anything that its competitors do not, it does one thing very well: convert voice messages into text.
As with other voicemail-to-text services, setting up VoiceCloud was a remarkably simple affair. Signing up involved selecting a carrier (Alltel, AT&T, Cox Digital Phone, Sprint/Nextel, T-Mobile, US Cellular, or Verizon Wireless) creating a username and password, entering our credit card information, and dialing entering a code into our handset to complete the setup.
VoiceCloud offers two services: a free voicemail-to-audio conversion and voicemail-to-text transcriptions. The first provides up to 50 transcriptions per month for $9.95 (10 more transcriptions than what PhoneTag offers for the same price); an unlimited plan costs $19.95 per month (which is $10 cheaper than PhoneTag’s unlimited plan). If you prefer a pay-as-you-go option, you’re out of luck with VoiceCloud, but PhoneTag has a 35-cents-per-message rate for those who don’t want to pay a monthly fee.
VoiceCloud, like PhoneTag and YouMail, uses a Web interface that resembles an inbox; opening a message is as simple as clicking on it. Like YouMail, you can read transcribed messages (or play back your audio messages) in the browser, but you can also search messages via keyword. Developers can even utilize a “lite” version of the VoiceCloud API, which allows them to access voicemail transcription as a back end to their own applications.
After staging a few calls and letting them go to voicemail, we were quite pleased with VoiceCloud’s transcription. The text message was very accurate and legible, and able to distinguish between homophones (such as too, to, and two). This is a testament to the fact that humans, working in conjunction with computers, analyze the voice messages. VoiceCloud breaks messages into chunks (for enhanced privacy and security) that are streamed in real time to transcription agents who type the words of the voicemail. The transcribed chunks are then recombined by special software and pushed to the subscriber as an e-mail or text message. Still, VoiceCloud stumbled over less-common names like “Horatio” and “Massapequa.”
Transcribed voicemail arrived within 3 minutes, as both an e-mail and text message. Voicemails are stored in the Amazon S3 cloud as MP3 or WAV files so you can download them, play them in a browser (there’s also a special iPhone-formatted mobile site), or have them delivered to your inbox. At this time, you can’t reply to transcribed messages via e-mail using the Web interface, but VoiceCloud said that feature should roll out before mid-year. Unlike Youmail, VoiceCloud’s voice-to-audio and transcription services are tied together, which offers less configuration flexibility but is ultimately easier to understand.
If you want a witty voicemail greeting, you’ll have to create it yourself by dialing into the service or uploading an audio file. VoiceCloud doesn’t have the rich community comparable to YouMail, which supplies tons of free introductions. Similar to PhoneTag and YouMail, you don’t have to worry about deleting files, as VoiceCloud offers unlimited storage.
While VoiceCloud doesn’t have as wide an array of options and pricing plans as YouMail, it works with smaller carriers such as Cox Digital Phone and US Cellular, so it will appeal to subscribers on those networks. It lacks free transcription options and was not as accurate, but its $19.99 unlimited plan is $10 cheaper than PhoneTag and $12 cheaper than YouMail’s Read-It Unlimited monthly fee. If you can get by with just the basics, VoiceCloud is a decent option.