CallWave: Visual Voicemail without an iPhone

I admit that like many, I longed for an iPhone immediately after watching Steve Jobs introduce it last January. Apple has the uncanny knack of introducing features that until demo’ed by Steve Jobs, you never heard of, but from that moment on you realize that you can’t be productive again without it. Then reality sets in.

One of those “now that I know I want it, I must have it” features on the iPhone is visual voicemail. See all of your messages in an email-like list that you can browse through, instead of listening to messages in the order they were saved. I still want it. Like many web workers, I like to use my cell phone as my primary business phone number. It’s incredibly annoying to have to listen and skip through messages to find just the message you really want to hear. Or how about when you miss writing down the phone number and you have to listen to the whole message again? There is a better way, iPhone or not.

CallWave recently introduced a simple and free visual voicemail solution that works quite nicely.

CallWave visual voicemail replaces your wireless carrier’s voice mail system, instead forwarding those calls to its service. Setup is as easy as signing up for an account, and then entering a code in your phone as if you were dialing a contact’s phone number. A few minutes later, you receive a text message letting you know that the service is good to go. To cancel the service and return to your carrier’s voicemail, you need to enter additional codes.

Using a widget (versions available for Apple Dashboard, Yahoo or Vista Sidebar) or visiting the CallWave page, you can see a concise list of all callers, with the option of playing back their message right in the window (instead of requiring the file to be opened in another media player, as Vonage and others do). The service uses CallerID or the name you provide in its contact list to display the name of the caller. If you view the message list at the CallWave site, you can replay just the section of the message containing the information you need, for those callers that have to give you long winded chatter before getting to why they called.

When a caller leaves a voice message, you receive a text message. You are giving up the voicemail indicator provided by your carrier, so this is the only way to know that you have a message if you are away from your computer. You can also receive an email with the message as an attachment. To listen to your messages if you’re not near your computer, you simply dial your own cell phone number from your cell phone.

Yesterday, I received a call on my cell that I didn’t hear because my phone was in another room. I was at my desk working and received an email with the message. Thanks to CallWave, I was able to quickly return an important call that otherwise I wouldn’t have known about until hours too late. Handy. The only cost to the basic service is the airtime from your carrier for the forwarded calls, and for the text messages if you have a pay-per-use plan for them. A $9.95/month premium service is available that allows you to screen voicemail and transfer calls to a landline (similar to features offered by GrandCentral).

CallWave is beta testing a new service called Vtxt which will transcribe messages for review. This can be very helpful to see if a voicemail is worth listening to before you step out of the meeting.

CallWave is not going to turn your cell phone into an iPhone. But if visual voicemail was one of the iPhone’s features that made you drool, this may be an acceptable substitute.

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