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The Best Free Phone Resources

February 2008

Santa Claus listens.  A year ago in this space I lamented that he didn’t bring me the toy that I wanted: a smartphone with a gazillion features. Then a few months later, Palm and Verizon gave me a Treo 700w to use — all expenses paid. Santa, thank you.

So now I’m state-of-the-art. I have a phone that can do a little of everything: e-mail, surf the web, play audio and video, take pictures, and more.

And now that I’m state of the art, I’ve been scouting some of the cool free phone resources. It’s amazing what’s out there: free services for getting quick information, blasting SMS text messages to groups, setting up individually tailored outgoing messages, translating voice messages to text and forwarding them to yourself or others, setting up a single phone number for your various phone services, and many more.

There are a number of great services that give you free information when you’re on the go, either via voice recognition or text message.

Tellme is the granddaddy of these. Dial 800-555-TELL (8355) for news, weather, sports, stock quotes, business listings, driving directions, movie times, horoscope, and more. When you call, you’re presented with a voice menu, and you speak your selection. It works well, and is very useful.

Live Search 411 is a fairly new service from Microsoft. Dial 800-225-5411 and say the city and state, then ask for the business or business category. Say “Connect me” to connect to the business. You can also ask for a text message with a link to a map of the business. (Note that the number uses a mnemonic: 225-5411 is the same as CALL 411.) You can also ask for the Other Services menu, which offers weather, movie, and travel information, as well as sources of cheap gasoline.

Google 411 is similar. Dial 800-GOOG-411 (800-466-4411). In both cases, there’s no long-distance charge.

Dial DIR-ECT-IONS lets you ask for directions to any address, store, or event. Dial 347-328-4667 and the service asks you for your start and destination. It then immediately sends back turn-by-turn directions via text message. (Again, this number uses a mnemonic: on a keypad the letters DIR-ECT-IONS give you the correct number.)

Google SMS lets you send a query via text message to 466453 (the mnemonic is GOOGLE), and get a text response. Info available includes news, weather, sports, glossary, movies, stocks, Zip Codes, directions, maps, flights, area codes, product, airline, translation, calculator, airports, currency conversion, and more. The Google page gives the very simple syntax for these queries, such as “stock appl,” “weather boston,” “score red sox.”

In addition to getting quick information, there are some very powerful — and free — voicemail services available. You generally use these services to replace the voicemail system of your carrier.

YouMail is almost too good to be true. It’s a full-featured voicemail system that allows you to individualize outgoing greetings for each person who calls your cell number. You can manage all of your voicemail activities from the YouMail website, record greetings, listen to voicemail, and send voicemail messages via e-mail to groups of friends. You can choose between standard voicemail notification or text or e-mail notification that provides you with a running log of your incoming voicemail callers and their return numbers. The DitchMail feature plays a message to a specific caller and then hangs up on him or her — useful in case someone has been harassing you.

CAllWave is a voice mail and voice-to-text service. Phone messages are translated into text and forwarded to your e-mail or as a text message on your cell phone. Currently the service is free for personal use.

Also available are a large number of messaging services with neat features.

Jott lets you call a toll-free number, record a message, have it automatically converted to e-mail or text message, and then direct it to be sent to yourself, a specific contact, or a group.

Foonz, Pinger, and Bluepulse let you place group calls and send messages to multiple people, as well as offering other features.

Bitbomb, PingMe, and TelePixie let you schedule free text message reminders to your phone.

One of the inconveniences of the current-day phone situation is that you often have several different phones. GrandCentral lets you consolidate all your phones to a single number and choose which phone rings and when.

Wow, what a lotta good stuff. Maybe we can thank Santa for this, too.

© 2008 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D

E-mail Jim Karpen