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January 30, 2010

FAVE FIVE: PHONE Tips & Tricks - The LA Report Picks

by Don Rose

For this installment of The LA Report's Fave Five, I describe my five favorite phone tips and tricks.

1. GOOG-411

I use GOOG411 instead of the regular old school 411 because, for one thing, it is free (of course - it's from Google) -- and because it is both easier to use and offers more. I love how I can connect to businesses via voice commands only (using cell keys if there is ever any confusion, which is rare). It is not 100 percent perfect, but it is pretty darn good, and getting better all the time (since I am told Google's algorithm learns with each call, which serves as new data). 

How to use the service: Just say the business name, city and state; GOOG411's mellow voice then says the best match it found and offers to connect you, which it will (no charge) if you do nothing. If you want more matches, say "more results" and you will hear a list of up to 8 best matches; say the number of the match you want, and you are connected automatically (you can say "details" if you want to hear the phone number and address of your selection before you get connected). Easy, fast, works. Love it!


Try this free, fun and useful voice-commanded service by calling 800-555-TELL. Many services are offered at their Main Menu; a pleasing voice tells you the services offered and you say which one you want. The ones I use the most: Driving Directions, Weather, News, Stock Quotes. There is also Traffic, which Angelenos should appreciate.


Go to www.youmail.com to sign up for this free service. Youmail does everything my cell-voicemail does, and more. Not only can I listen to voice messages on my cell phone, I can also listen to them on the YouMail website, where I can see the name of who called (caller ID is built in), save messages for later retrieval if needed, and more. Playing messages on the site also allows me to conserve cell minutes, since I had to use those minutes each time I checked my regular cell-voicemail. In addition, I can set up my account so I get email alerts about new voice messages, or text alerts, or both. I can even use custom greetings offered on YouMail's website (I especially love the "George Answering Machine" outgoing message, culled from a classic Seinfeld episode), or I can just record my own greeting. 

How does YouMail make money? One way is by offering, for a small fee, the option of voicemail transcription -- so you can read each voicemail instead of listening to it. I did not choose this paid option, since I don't have a need for transcription yet, but it's nice to know it's there. Eventually, I may try using this feature to leave myself messages for dictation purposes; it might make writing my next book much easier.


Get the information you need texted to you free by Google. You can try an interactive demo and get more info at www.google.com/sms. Very useful service, and yes, it is free (just the normal texting charges from your cell company, if any). The Google SMS webpage says: "From local business listings to stock quotes, you can get the information you're looking for with Google SMS. Text message your search query to 466453 ("GOOGLE" on most devices) and we'll text message back your results. Try our interactive demo below and view results on the phone image as you would on your own mobile device. For HELP Text HELP to 466453, discuss this product, or visit the Mobile Help Center for additional support. Send STOP to cancel to 466453. Message & data rates may apply. Handset must be SMS capable and user must be authorized to use this device. For a list of useful shortcuts and tips, text HELP."


Final tip: if you are looking for new cell service, try T-Mobile. I switched to them from AT&T and feel TMo's customer service is far superior. In my experience, they have always bent over backwards to solve any problem, reps are extremely friendly, and I have never encountered an attitude or negative vibe from anyone at TMo. Plus, whenever there has been a service hiccup (a rare thing), they offered generous bonus minutes to make up for it. On top of all this, I get fantastic call coverage in the Los Angeles area, as well as across the nation, and I almost never experience a dropped call. Bottom line: The LA Report loves T-Mobile.