Cell phones without voice mail would be completely useless. Just try going a week without it (as I have), and you'll understand what I mean. But as important as it is, voice mail isn't always useful. Say you get a call on your cell phone, but you can't take it because you're on a dinner date. And say it's from your boss, who you know only calls you when the office is about to explode. And because you don't want to be rude to your date, you don't check your voice mail until after dinner is over. But for the rest of the meal you can focus only on what the message says, and not on the witty musings of your date.
Sound familiar? Well, a new service from a voice applications company called Callwave may just have a solution. Vtxt takes spoken voice mail messages and converts them into text. When someone calls and leaves you a voice mail, Vtxt will send you a text message and an e-mail with a transcript. You don't get the message word-for-word; rather Vtxt gives you the gist, so you can understand what the person said.
Setup is a several part process, but the instructions are easy to follow. And once you're ready to go, Vtxt is a useful and user-friendly service. Both the text message and e-mail arrive within seconds, so you have ample time to decide if the message is urgent enough for you respond straightaway.
Alternatively, if you're sitting near a computer when the call comes in, you can check your personalized Callwave Web page to hear a full audio recording of the message or read the gist of it on the transcription. The PhonePage (as the Web page is called) also shows each message you've received in a list format, so you can pick and choose which message you want to read (or listen to) without having to review each message chronologically. That's very useful indeed.
If you'd like to respond to the message, you can do so on the PhonePage using a couple of methods. You can send a text directly through the Web page by typing in a special field. We tried it this way and it worked fine. You also can call the person back by clicking a button on the site. The process is a little circular--your phone will first ring, you answer it, and then their phone rings--but it takes just a few seconds.
As we said earlier, Vtxt does not give you a literal transcription of your message. Instead you get a summary with the most relevant words as selected by Vtxt. It's designed to ignore anything it deems unimportant, so it will cut any pauses and hesitations, repetitions, greeting phrases (like "Hi Kent, it's me"), and other nonessential words. In return, you typically get the meat of the message with the essential meaning. It's also programmed to recognize common voice mail phrases and words it deems as urgent such as "I'll be late" or "call me back."
It's not perfect, by any means, but it did an acceptable job of telling us what we needed to know about a message. It is better with simple, complete phrases like "I'll be there in 10 minutes" or "please call me back," than it is with rambling diatribes with lots of details. For example, when a friend left a message that said, "My mom and I want to take you out to lunch and I wanted to see what you guys were in the mood for," the transcript came out as "I'm on and I want you got goes up to lunch and I wanna see what you guys removed for." And amusingly, "I just finished my match" read as "I just finished my neck." Does it always make sense? Not so much, but that was an exception rather than the rule. And considering it's a relatively new technology, we didn't expect too much in the first place.
If you leave a nonsensical voice mail, the transcription will reflect that. When we left a voice mail consisting only of news headlines, we got gibberish in return. It's also worth noting that it wasn't always great with uncommon names: "Kent" came out as "kind" or even "cancel." But overall, we were pleased with the results. Even though it missed a few, that was OK--since the gist is really all we need most of the time. And, in any case, if we want the whole message we'll just listen to the voice mail.
A final point is that Vtxt does not use your carrier's standard voice mail (your received calls are forwarded to Callwave's own voice mail service). So once you set up the service, your voice mails will be accessible only through Callwave's system. Old messages will continue to live on your carrier's voice mail, but they aren't transferable back and forth. Moreover, you have to access each voice mail box separately. This can be a bit confusing if you're popular, so make sure you remember which messages live where.