So what makes HotFax a winner? Simplicity. The program's main interface, a graphical representation of a standard business phone (complete with a handset and a number pad), is both visually appealing and immediately familiar. Large buttons labeled Send Fax and Receive Fax are self-explanatory--no cryptic icons here--and your phone book is just a click away. The handy cover-page designer and other features are readily available via a compact drop-down menu. We immediately liked HotFax's look and feel, and you will, too.
Fast setup; good tools
HotFax's installation routine is painless and straightforward; simply click Next during the usual series of setup screens. In CNET's tests, HotFax installed faster than other fax programs, primarily because it waited until we launched the program (that is, after setup) before running its fax-modem diagnostics (searching for and configuring the modem).
HotFax boasts straightforward send and receive tools. To send a document from Microsoft Word, for instance, you select Print from Word's own File menu and change the print driver to HotFax. Most fax programs, including WinFax Pro and TotalFax, send faxes this way, although we prefer eFax Messenger's more intuitive solution of inserting a Send Fax command into the menu bar of various applications.
HotFax's cover-page designer is a breeze to use, with dozens of templates for every conceivable personal and business topic, from new baby announcements to what the app calls "nasty" payment-due reminders. Of course, you can use HotFax's bountiful collection of drawing and text tools to create your own cover pages as well as insert company logos and other graphics. Although fax-software rookies might prefer WinFax Pro's hand-holding cover-page design wizard, which steps you through the page-building process, seasoned faxers will love the freedom and creativity of HotFax's designer.
HotFax integrates nicely with TextBridge OCR, a standalone optical character recognition program that ships on the HotFax CD-ROM. (You have to install TextBridge separately.) To convert a fax to text, for instance, simply click OCR Document from a HotFax drop-down menu. TextBridge then launches immediately and performs the OCR quickly and, in CNET's tests, accurately. Only WinFax Pro also offers OCR, though its OCR module didn't require a separate installation.
HotFax's shortcomings? Unlike WinFax Pro, HotFax doesn't include a photo-quality mode for sending faxes, a weakness that showed up during CNET tests. Specifically, JPEG images sent via HotFax looked much too dark. Another issue: you can't import contact data directly from Microsoft Outlook; you must first convert it to a format supported by HotFax or configure HotFax to use Outlook as its address book. (HotFax should import directly from Outlook, which is one of the world's most popular contact managers.) By comparison, WinFax and eFax Plus imported our Outlook data directly, but TotalFax did not.
On the plus side, HotFax's tech support is top-notch. Support staff answered our e-mail queries accurately within a few hours (once within 15 minutes!), and hold times averaged only a few minutes whenever we called Smith Micro's free phone support.
On all fronts, HotFax 5.0 is a solid, inexpensive solution for your small-business and home faxing needs.