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Summary:

I’ve been using Google’s GrandCentral since well, before it was Google’s GrandCentral. My day job is based in Virginia and with GrandCentral, I could have a 703 area code phone number that didn’t tie me to my home office all day. However, over the last few […]

PhoneFusion5.jpgI’ve been using Google’s GrandCentral since well, before it was Google’s GrandCentral. My day job is based in Virginia and with GrandCentral, I could have a 703 area code phone number that didn’t tie me to my home office all day. However, over the last few months I’ve been frustrated by the service’s limitations and glacial progress.

While there are many virtual PBX options for SMBs and Enterprise, most are priced way out of an individual’s reach. They also tend to include features like toll-free numbers, multiple extensions and incoming/outgoing calls charged by the minute. I’m not looking for an answering system for my business…I’m a web worker looking for a better way to manage my personal and professional communications.

Where can you go when you’ve outgrown GrandCentral (or never got a chance to try it in the first place) but you’re not ready to spend a lot on features you don’t need? PhoneFusion One. I’ve been using the $9.95/month service for the last few weeks in a free trial account, and I’m quite impressed with it. Enough to give up GrandCentral completely? Yes, I think so.

For the purposes of this review, I’m going to focus on PhoneFusion One’s standard plan at $9.95 per month. The company also offers a Premium plan which provides everything in the standard plan plus VOIP outgoing call features. With the standard plan, outgoing calls made through the PhoneFusion system are billed at 3.5 cents per minute. This is still preferable to similar services such as RingCentral which charge for both incoming and outgoing minutes.

Don’t let the dated graphics on PhoneFusion’s website deter you. The company is in the process of updating the site’s look and feel.

Like with GrandCentral, you tell PhoneFusion which phones should ring on an incoming phone call. You can transfer calls and screen to voicemail. That’s where the similarity to GrandCentral ends, as PhoneFusion gives you far more control over exactly what happens when that call comes in, for both you and the caller.

phonefusion1-1.jpgWhen someone dials a GrandCentral phone number, they hear what they think is a standard phone ring while GrandCentral is trying to find you at the numbers you specify. With PhoneFusion, the call is immediately answered by the system with an audible greeting that you can record. In addition, you decide whether your want your callers screened (“who may I say is calling?”), and you can upload your own music for your callers to listen to while they wait for the system to call your numbers and find you. While GrandCentral does allow you to customize what callers hear, they no longer allow you to upload music from your own library.

phonefusion2.jpgEvery possible option is configurable on the PhoneFusion website. You decide whether you want your phone numbers to ring one-at-a-time or all at the same time. You decide how long you want the system to wait for you to answer, and how long it should wait for you to accept the call. You set the specific hours you want phones to be accessible (as opposed to GrandCentral’s blanket “business hours” option).

You can configure what happens if the system gets your home voicemail, and whether calls should be auto-accepted. It takes some tweaking to get the timings right, being mindful that you will have someone sitting on hold. After some back and forth I finally have it set where the caller doesn’t have to wait a total of more than 45 seconds, while still giving me enough time to answer the phone before I lose the caller to voicemail. I’ve also configured it so my cell phone auto accepts calls so I don’t have to worry about scrambling for the keypad while on the go.

Like with GrandCentral, an email and/or SMS message is sent when a voicemail is received. With PhoneFusion, you can be notified of hang-ups, too, in case a caller didn’t have the patience to wait for your destination phones to ring.

Your PhoneFusion number is also your fax number. No need for a separate eFax account. Yes, I know…faxing is so old school. But when that secretary is holding a piece of paper and you need a copy of it, “Can you scan that and send it to me as a PDF attachment or upload it to a file sharing service and email me the link?” likely won’t get what you need over “Can you fax that to me?” If a fax tone is detected on an incoming call, you receive the fax as a PDF attachment. Earlier in the week, I had a conversation with someone who said they were sending me a fax. We hung up and seconds later the fax was in my inbox. Much faster routing than with eFax. Unfortunately, the only way to send a fax through PhoneFusion is with a PC-only print driver.

phonefusion3.jpgAn interesting PhoneFusion feature that I haven’t had a chance to try yet is MeetMe conferencing. Rather than using a separate service such as FreeConference, you can easily schedule a conference call for up to 5 participants from within the control panel.

After the call is set up, you receive an email containing access information you can forward to participants. The participants call your PhoneFusion number and then press 9 and enter the access code you provide them.

PhoneFusion does not have an internal contact list. So unlike GrandCentral, you can’t have different greetings for different callers or groups of callers. Considering how difficult it was to keep the GrandCentral contact list up-to-date, I do not miss this much.

The company also offers VoiceMail Plus, which allows you to manage all your voicemail messages from multiple sources (home, cell, etc.) into one visual voicemail interface. We took a brief look at this service a few months ago. Unfortunately, Apple/AT&T won’t allow iPhones to participate so I was unable to test this feature. It currently works with Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices.

My favorite thing about PhoneFusion is how easy it is to manage and work with your account when you’re not at your desktop. GrandCentral has a passable mobile website with minimal ability to change settings. Deal breaker for me: there is no way of listening to an already-played GrandCentral message from an iPhone.

When you call your own GrandCentral number from your cell phone, you can only listen to new messages and change greetings. When you call your PhoneFusion number from your cell phone and hit * (skipping the password prompt if you’re calling from a number you’ve configured to be a “preferred” phone number), you can do so much more. Yes, you can listen to old messages. You can also manage your destination phones.

Let’s say you’re working from a temporary office or you’re visiting friends and don’t have access to a computer. Just dial your PhoneFusion number and add a new destination. Or disable an existing destination. You can review faxes, set up conference calls, you name it…all by phone. Very very handy. You can even call your PhoneFusion number, hit *, then 9 (for an “outside line”), and enter the phone number you want to call when prompted (remember, this is charged per minute on the cheaper plan). No need for a dedicated dialer application. It’s that easy.

The base price of $9.95/month is attractive, yet there are a number of a la carte options that can add up, beyond the 3.5 cents per minute per outgoing call. Want to remove the PhoneFusion.com branding callers hear immediately when they call? That’s another $10/month. Additional storage, automatic phone recordings and other such features are also additional services.

In addition to unlimited VOIP calling, the $29.95 plan includes a softphone and the ability to use VOIP adapters. If you’re looking to have your PhoneFusion number be your only incoming and outgoing phone number, it’s the way to go. Otherwise, you can easily stick to the cheaper plan and not miss out on much. Support has been excellent, and the service has been rock solid.

Conclusion

PhoneFusion One is a nice blend of powerful features companies pay hundreds of dollars per month to get, and simple, consumer-friendly options for the mobile individual. If the only price you’re willing to consider is free, then stick with GrandCentral and hope that Google gets its act together. If you’re ready to get what you pay for, then PhoneFusion One seems to be well worth it.

  1. You have an international audience. If you are discussing a US-only service, please make that clear in the first paragraph. Saves a lot of time.

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  2. Sam, I’m sorry. You’re right. I should have been clear on which countries the service is available and I’m waiting for clarification from the company. I will update the post once I have that information.

    GrandCentral is also only available in the United States, and that is the point-of-reference I was taking.

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  3. Hi Judi!

    Bianca here from PhoneFusion. I saw Sam’s comment and wanted to let you know that PhoneFusion can in fact terminate phone calls anywhere in the world! As for having local international numbers, no, not yet, HOWEVER, if using PhoneFusions Phone Adapter, users can make a call from any Internet Broadband connection around the world. We are always welcoming the feedback and searching for ways to better our product and will be sure to keep you posted on any new enhancements for feature releases!

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  4. I am a current GrandCentral user and share your disappointment since the Google purchase. I tried to sign up for a free PhoneFusion account but ended up with a pay account – no worries it is month to month so I can cancel anytime.

    One of my complaints about GrandCentral is that you need to hit the keypad to answer the phone which is a challenge when driving. I got the impression from your article that there is a way in PhoneFusion to set up an auto answer and get around this but perhaps you were just referring to a feature of your handset?

    Thanks for an interesting review.

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  5. Jack, yes, you read it right. In PhoneFusion you can set a destination line to auto accept. When you do this, you lose access to some other features, such as answering machine interception, and the ability to reject/screen calls. When a PhoneFusion call comes in on a line set to auto accept, you hear a tone which lets you know it’s a PhoneFusion call, and then you just start talking. It has nothing to do with my handset.

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  6. I’m also a GrandCentral user, and like Jack, my big complaint is having to hit the button. It’s not only a pain in the car, but it means I can’t wander away from my desk with my wireless headset since I can’t press “1” to pick up the call.

    On the other hand, I still want the call screening. What I really want is an option to do voice recognition — instead of pressing one, let me say “one” or “answer” or something like that.

    If that feature was available, I’d move from GrandCentral in a heartbeat.

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  7. Chuck, I agree. I even asked the PhoneFusion folks about voice recognition when we spoke last week and they said, predictably, no can do.

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  8. My problem is that I have given out my grandcentral number to everyone. Everybody has it and I can’t take it with me. That, for me, is a deal breaker to switching. I don’t want to have to give everyone a new number. That was the whole point of GC. One number for life.

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  9. As a current GC user (pre-Google), the one thing that won’t make me switch is the capability of categorizing callers as either SPAM, or the ability to block callers altogether.

    Oh, and there’s that little problem about changing my phone number. ;-)

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  10. Does PhoneFusion’s voicemail allow the caller to specify whether the message is urgent or not? Thus the account holder could receive an SMS for an urgent message, but not be bothered for a routine message.

    This feature seems to be VERY hard to find!

    Thanks.

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  11. Yes, I will check out PhoneFusion. I see the comments in the GrandCentral group, some people are hoping against hope that the reason for the NON-action is that soon something grand is going to happen to GrandCentral.

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  12. The PhoneFusion vmail app for the blackberry doesn’t have the capability to vibrate. That’s a deal breaker for those of us who are in meetings all day…

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  13. Interesting service.
    But to test it for myself I need access to
    Grand Central. I need someone to invite me to the beta. Can you send me an invite?

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  14. What a load of BS. This original post / section reads like an infomercial. Very biased toward PhoneFusion. $9.95 per month and another 10 dollars more to eliminate the spam my callers would get if I dont pay $20 per month. No thank you.

    Look GrandCentral has been free while in beta. I am glad of the glacial pace of GrandCentral since Google acquired it because of the beta it remains free of costs.

    I use the click to call daily. It is fantastic, and free (so far). I even have a dialer application on my Nokia N800 so I can dial out very similar to a regular phone call (without the Nokia app. I’d first have to add a contact to the GC interface online). The only two things that are a tiny tiny inconvenience is that with GC click to call, I cannot send DTMF tones after I am in a call, and when i answer incoming calls I have to press 1 to accept the call (but I have gotten used to that). Why would I pay PhoneFusion $9.95 + $10 per month ($220 per year) for something which GrandCentral provides free? Even MagicJack is only $29 the 1st year and $19.95 each year thereafter. Then there is Skype, Gizmo5, and so many other low cost choices. Why pay PhoneFusion 3.5 cents a minute when Gizmo5 is under 2 cents a minute or Webacall is 1.1 cents a minute. Skype isn’t SIP but it does work well and it is only 2.1 cents a minute to most of the planet.

    I have no affiliation with any of the above services that I have praised above, I am just a user. Actually Webacall for outgoing has been very nice when I needed to send DTMF after the call was placed (press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish). Skype and Gizmo5 are decent also. Calls into my GC number ring my Nokia N800, my converted Sunrocket phones and my Cell phone simultaneously and it costs me zero a minute and zero a month, and no taxes. With all the low cost options now out there (some 100% free) why would anyone pay $220 a year for PhoneFusion?

    I hope GrandCentral doesn’t change whatsoever for the next 10 years. It works awesome just the way it is, and is free! My fear is that when GC starts to move forward, the party will be over, making me sad.

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  15. Hi Judi.. just wanted to let your forum know that Fusion Voicemail Plus was released out of BETA today and the vibrate sync issue Derrick posted about has been resolved in this release! Also – for James Kirk – I so appreciate your feedback. Just note that PhoneFusion offers over 80 featured (Virtual PBX, inbound/outbound fax, meet me conferencing, etc.) which are really the major differentiators between PF and GC. The bottom line is that we want to profess UDC (User Defined Communications) as opposed to UC so that to allow the “user” to be able to pick and choose what the want to use, how, when and where to use it. Great forum Judi! Keep up the great work.

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  16. P.S. Sorry for the typos’ in the previous post. My brain was moving faster than my fingers. That’s a good thing, right?

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