PRODUCT REVIEW

Spinvox Delivers Handy Talk-to-Text Service

Toolbars and add-ons bring increased functionality to Web browsers andthe computers that run them. UK-based SpinVox does the same thingfor cell phone users. The company offers several services that convertvoicemail to text messages or e-mail and allow message broadcasting tolisted recipients and social networks.

SpinVox is just beginning to market these services to U.S. consumers,and all of the company’s offerings are not yet available throughindividual cell phone carriers. For those customers whose cell phonecarriers are already on board, though, the services can be acquired by signingup at the SpinVox Web site and activated through theuser’s handset settings.

A few of the services, such as message blasting and speak-to-text,could give businesses added efficiency in communicating with a fieldof employees in separate locations. Other services, such as bloggingand social networking, will no doubt appeal to consumers who can’tkeep their fingers and eyes away from IM screens and texting buddies.

Perhaps the most useful features for consumers and business usersalike are the voice-to-text and memo offerings. All of these usesstart with the cell phone as the main source of messaging.

Marketing Mix

The SpinVox Web site gives only a minimalistic overview of thecommunications toolbox the company offers. The brief explanations ofthe offerings are presented in a confusing and sometimes overlappingmanner.

Getting the service choices started, however, is more functional.Potential customers can sign up for one or more options online and getinstant directions on activating the service.

The Web site could be a turn-off to some consumers who are not willingto take a free trial of one or more of the services. The site’s designis clearly British-based with phrases and cutesy illustrations thatshout British culture. Perhaps a marketing approach better targetingU.S. users would be more welcoming.

Another problem is that the services are not clearly delineatedbetween offerings for individual consumers and service providers.

Note to Self

The goal behind SpinVox for consumers is to give cell phone userstools to enhance their communication efforts. Most cell phone accountsalready permit call forwarding, for example. But messages that gounanswered still are either missed calls or captured as voice messagesat the forwarded number.

SpinVox adds a better option. The cell phone user can forward theincoming voice message to a converted text message delivered to eitheran e-mail address or to the cell phone’s text message in-box — or both.

Many cell phones have a voice-recording feature built in forspeaking personal notes. SpinVox takes that idea one step further.With the memory feature, users can speak a voice message tothemselves. The phone then sends a converted text version of that memoto the user’s e-mail in-box.

Even More

BlackBerry users and those with other smartphones can already send liveupdates to a Web site. SpinVox’s Blog feature lets cell phone userscreate voice commentaries in real time and send a converted textmessage to their blogging site.

Business users and users with a large friend base can use SpinVox’sBlast feature to speak a text message and send it to as many people asthey like. The text version can go to designated mobile phones, e-mailin-boxes, or both. The feature lets the subscribers add, delete orupdate their group of friends.

The Social Networking feature is similar to the Blast option with onekey difference. It enables the subscriber to share comments instantlyby posting a converted text version of the spoken entry to theirchosen social network.

Another somewhat redundant feature is Messenger. The subscriber canspeak a message and disperse it as text. For workers in a noisyenvironment, for instance, this option can let the user be “heard” ina crowded room quite easily and privately.

Testing SpinVox

Setting up a SpinVox account was fairly easy. I received by e-maila user name and PIN that allowed me to log onto my account and tweakthe settings. I also received a phone number to use for retrievingforwarded voice messages.

Depending on the phone carrier, the actual configuration will differslightly. In my case, my AT&T mobile device allowed me to easilyactivate call forwarding by entering my SpinVox phone number. I didnot have to contact my phone carrier’s customer service department toadd the service. Of course, I may have to pay for the call forwardingactivity when my next monthly bill arrives.

During the free trial I did not incur any additional costs fromSpinVox. And the numerous long-distance calls to retrieve my forwardedvoice messages didn’t affect my no-charge cell phone calling plan. Butthe additional stream of text messages to my phone’s in-box accruedagainst my plan’s monthly texting total so I might get hit with ahigher bill for that.

Ultimately, I see little use in getting both e-mail messages ofconverted voice calls and phone in-box copies. So I can reduce addedcosts by not having text conversions of voice mail sent to the phone.My e-mail account on the computer is free. But then, I always travelwith a laptop or a netbook, so for me, that option is redundant.

Configuring Options

In setting up my forwarding options from the cell phone, I couldchoose to forward an incoming call if my cell phone was busy, if itwas not answered or it was not available. Each option entailedentering the phone number to use for forwarding.

My handset allows me to deactivate and reactivate each of thesesettings, so I did not have to change or disable the voice messagephone number to my carrier. This arrangement makes it easy to turn thecall forwarding to SpinVox on and off as needed.

I also could call into my SpinVox phone number using any phone, enter my PIN, and change my voice mail outgoingmessage. The same dial-in process allows me to access voice messagesfrom any phone, delete messages, etc. This works much like any cellphone voice mail system.

How It Performed

The message conversion process and message delivery was surprisinglyfast. I suspect the speed of message delivery is dependent on twofactors. One is the efficiency of the email Internet service. Theother is the traffic-handling capability of the cell phone carrier.

In my case, test calls I made to my cell phone were sent to my in-boxand e-mail in less than 90 seconds. The delivery times varied with eachtest, but never did I have to wait any longer than receipt of normalphone text messages or computer e-mail delivery.

Each text message contains a quick link access number. This makes itpossible to call my SpinVox phone number and enter my PIN, and then theQuick-Link message number to get to that specific message withoutwading through other messages stacked up in the voice mailbox. Ofcourse, I could play back or skip messages without going directly to aparticular message.

Pricing and Impressions

Overall, I was impressed with SpinVox. It was easy to set up andsimple to use.

The ability to forward calls from my cell phone and to read textversions of voice messages can be very handy. Getting text copies ine-mail suits my usual work routine.

I can file the text messages of phone call voice mail with other e-mailcommunication since I prefer not to play telephone tag in dealing withnews sources and editors as I engage in my work as a technologyjournalist always on the move.

Pricing information from the company was not fully clear — thepricing is often controlled by the phone carrier. Two prices quoted bySpinVox were US$5.99 per month for an unlimited plan with Alltel andCincinnati Bell and $9.99 per month for UReach.

SpinVox offers the blogging and memo features for free.

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