Souping Up a Cellphone for Maximum Multitasking
By KEVIN C. TOFEL
James C. Best, Jr./The New York Times
WHAT is the one item you never leave home without? Sure, the American Express folks have you conditioned to think about their product, but the more likely answer is your cellphone.
Now, what is the one device you need with you for connecting to vast amounts of information, displaying it, processing it and conveying it to others. You would probably say a computer. But that cellphone you are carrying might be able to do much of that as well.
You can probably be almost as productive with that hand-held device as you are with a laptop weighing 10 times as much, if you know how to tweak your phone. And it does not have to be an iPhone or the latest smartphone to do these tricks. Most recent phones can use these services.
One of the biggest time wasters has to be managing your voice mail. The iPhone offers a “visual voice mail” feature so you can pick and choose which messages to listen to and easily pause or fast-forward through a message to save time.
Two other services, GotVoice (www.gotvoice.com) and CallWave (www.callwave.com), offer similar features that can save time and even help you manage voice mail when you are not at your phone. For $10 a month, GotVoice’s Premium service will monitor voice mail on up to three different phone numbers. The service takes the messages and saves them in the popular MP3 standard audio format. Once a message is retrieved and saved, GotVoice will send you an e-mail message along with the MP3 file that you can listen to, pause, rewind and more.
Of course, unless you have a full-featured smartphone, you will most likely want to play the audio file from a computer. If you do not have a smartphone, you can take advantage of GotVoice’s voice-mail-to-text transcription service, which is included in the premium account. Up to 40 of your voice mail messages a month will be transcribed and sent directly to your handset as a text message.
CallWave offers similar services for $15. Its transcribed voice mail can be read as an e-mail message as well as a text message. Both services offer Web portals to help you manage, search and archive messages.
GotVoice works in reverse, too: you can broadcast a voice mail message to a group of contacts right through the service; no need to call each friend if dinner reservations fall though and everyone must meet across town.
Along those lines, maybe you want to send a message to yourself. Could a voice mail service actually serve as a to-do list or provide reminders? Jott could come in handy.
A free service, Jott (www.jott.com) uses your phone as a voice-dictation machine. Once you set up an account, you simply call (866) JOTT-123 on your hand-held device to connect. After the call goes through, you will be prompted for whom you wish to “jott.” You reply with the word myself and wait for the recording tone. Now you can speak “Buy birthday present for Johnny before Aug. 5,” or whatever task reminder you need. Upon hanging up, Jott will transcribe the task and shoot it off in a e-mail message to the address you provided for yourself during setup.
The beauty of this service is that you can assign a speed-dial number to Jott’s service for a one-button call any time you need to send yourself a reminder. The approach can be used while driving or in other situations where text messaging or typing on a small device are less than ideal.
The uses for Jott as a productivity tool do not stop with reminders to yourself while on the go. You can dictate a message to other individuals or whole groups. You can even post an entry to your blog.
A new service called ChaCha (www.chacha.com), which was demonstrated at the CTIA wireless industry show in Las Vegas this week, allows you to do Internet searches by asking a question over the cellphone. You dial (800) 2CHACHA or (800) 224-2242, pose the question and an answer is returned by text message.
One of the best features of smartphones is the accessibility to maps. Even if you do not have a Global Positioning System in the phone, that phone probably has a number of free and pay-for-service options to help you find your way. Most of the cellular carriers offer some type of location service that costs about $10 a month on average. Verizon Wireless offers VZ Navigator while AT&T is a partner with TeleNav and of course, the Apple iPhone includes Google Maps along with a new location service that uses a combination of cellular towers and wireless hotspots to estimate your current position.
Hitting the Google Maps for Mobile Webpage (www.google.com/gmm) on most newer cellphones supporting Java or J2ME will get you the same map information as the iPhone and other smartphones have. Even better: pressing the zero key on your phone can show your location right on the map if your phone is new enough to provide Google the local cellular tower information. Like many other Google services, the My Location feature is still being tested and the newer your phone is, the more likely it is you will get your location.
If you do not have a supported device, but could still use directions, Google can provide them free. Since most every phone these days supports text messaging, you text message your directions request to Google, which is 466453 on the keypad. In the message, enter your starting location and ending location; you can use a ZIP code if you do not know your exact location. Once your request is received, Google will return step-by-step directions to your destination free. Bear in mind that a long list of directions may result in multiple text messages since each message is limited to 160 characters.
You will also want to be careful about how often you use the service unless you have an unlimited text message plan with your carrier.
Of course, this method requires the use of that pesky little keypad, which can be annoying. What if we used the function the cellphone was designed for? You can call a service called Dial Directions (www.dialdirections.com). You dial the word directions, which works out to 347-328-4667. You will have to pay for the long-distance call if your wireless plan does not cover it, but the service itself is free. Once you are connected, you will be prompted for information to an address, an intersection, certain businesses or an event. During the prompts, Dial Directions will speak back what it heard you say so that you can make corrections.
Once the service has the starting location and the destination it will send text messages to your phone with the directions or a Web link.
The camera in your phone can also be turned into a productivity tool. Consider signing up for an account at scanR (www.scanr.com) to make use of your Java-based, S60, Palm OS or BlackBerry handset. You simply use your phone and scanR’s application to take a picture of any document, whiteboard, business card or other legible text. The photo is sent from your phone to the scanR service where it is turned into a readable Adobe PDF document and sent to you through an e-mail message. The basic service is free, but only if you limit yourself to five uploads a month (and you will have a scanR logo on your documents). Unlimited uploads and no logo cost $3 a month or $30 a year.
While scanR might appeal more to businesspeople, it can be quite handy to capture written directions, shopping lists or any other textual information.
It is not a perfect substitute for lugging around your entire office, but it, like the other services, is considerably lighter.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company