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Voicemail for cell phones has basically been the same since it was first released. Someone calls you and if you don’t answer or your phone is not available on the network, the call is forwarded to voicemail. A signal is then sent to your cell phone that there is one or more messages waiting and you dial in to pick up those messages.

What a 20th century solution!

Wouldn’t it be great if you could have your voice mail e-mailed to you or otherwise retrieve it without having to call back in to your number?

Enter YouMail – a free, ad supported service where you transfer your voicemail handling to an external provider. Right now it is only available in the US and works on AT&T, Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and more. In turn, they offer some killer features:

YouMail Free Voicemail

Customized voicemail greetings for people in your address book.


Voicemail to email

If you want your family to have a different voicemail greeting than your work people or your crazy friends then this is a great way to do it. Add their phone numbers to your address book and then assign them to a group. You can then assign a specific greeting to a caller or to a group.

You can record your own greeting of course via the web or by calling in to a number. However there are many free greetings available to choose from, and there are even some premium “cool” ones available for a fee.

You might think it is a great idea to have Mr. T saying “I pity the fool, leave a message” to your callers but I’m sure your boss won’t be impressed when he calls to see why you are late to work again! Now you can pick who gets what greeting.

Also a feature which is both funny and useful is the “ditch” function. If you really don’t want someone to call you any more, assign their number as a “ditch” number. A message which says your phone is disconnected will play for them, hopefully persuading them to stop calling you.

Voicemail Notification via e-mail, web, and text message

Pick your poison. I choose all three. When someone calls and leaves a message, I get SMS and e-mail notification that I missed the call. Since everything is connected these days, this works really well. If I don’t hear my phone ring or I leave it at home, I still get an instant e-mail notification.

YouMail Email

Along with the web component, you can share your voicemail messages via email or by copying code to include it on your blog or website.

Beta Feature – Voicemail to Text transcription sent to your phone!

Just released is a feature that will take a voicemail and attempt to transcribe that voicemail to text. Through some testing I’ve done, I’ve discovered it works pretty well, usually enough to get the gist of the message. Basically, the clearer the line is and the slower the caller speaks, the better the transcription will be.

youMail txtThe transcription can be sent right to your cell phone, so you know what your messages are before you even need to listen to your voicemail. It’s great to see this if you are in a meeting or on the road, and you can tell if you need to call back right away or if it can wait (or even if you can ignore it).

In Summary

YouMail is awesome and I recommend it for anyone with a cell phone to try out! Instructions for many cell phones and carriers are listed on their site. It is usually a combination key press that you send, just like a phone call. All of the features above then work, and you can still access your voicemail just like before by reassigning your voicemail key.

A concern of mine is how they stay sustainable — what is their revenue source? Their business plan calls for keeping their accounts free – and including ads on their notification and translation services. That is perfectly OK with me considering the services they provide. I used to use a service called CallWave – which I would recommend too but they recently left “beta” stage and all free accounts have been removed. Their cheapest plan is $14.95/mo, and in addition to a $80 phone bill, I just can’t justify the additional cost.

Really, the services that YouMail provides should be provided by your carrier. But until they get on the wagon and start offering new services like this (and it should be included in your account as a free, not a pay-for feature!), then YouMail is a great voicemail replacement.

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  1. kyle
    March 28, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    why doesnt my phone ring. All my calls are just directed to the youmail voicemail. I dont want it like this

    • Evan
      April 8, 2009 at 1:17 pm

      Kyle - you probably set up all call forwarding to the number, yo need to setup call no answer or call busy

  2. Jacey
    June 5, 2008 at 12:10 am

    Youmail sounds terrific. I'm currently using 101Voicemail which gives a tollfree number. I'm not sure if i want to let go of my number. Does anyone know if I can transfer my toll free number?

  3. Jacey
    June 5, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Youmail sounds terrific. I'm currently using 101Voicemail tollfree voice mail and I'm not sure if I can let go of my toll free number. Does anyone know if you mail has toll free numbers?

  4. Surfer
    May 7, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    I just signed up a few weeks ago and I have to say i'm very impressed. As a small business owner/entrepreneur i find it very useful for the 3 different projects i have to be able to organize my callers so my cell answers with the right identity. i tried a bunch of stuff before and even GC but i found it too confusing to give people a new number and then confuse them by calling them back from my cell and have a different number show up - who wants that hassle!
    Anyway, their new transcription service is a bit wonky but hey, it's free and it's in beta. I am using a bunch of the pre-recorded stuff they have and they're generally pretty good.
    So, a thumbs up from me on YouMail.


  5. lattyb
    April 7, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    i've just signed up for YouMail on my T-Mobile phone. one thing to be aware of - if you are a T-Mobile customer in the greater San Francisco bay area, you will have a devil of a time getting YouMail to work at all.

    i signed up on a Saturday night for the service, and sign-up was 90% intuitive. (10% taken off since there's no easy way to return to your regular voicemail service shown on the site anywhere - but i learned after 2 days of no voicemail that you can dial # 004 # to turn it off fyi)

    so it sounds kinda horrific, right? two days with no voicemail? i politely asked YouMail to let me know how to completely disable this service. then a wonderfully kind woman named alexandra emailed me from YouMail and asked me to ring her. directly. i did, and she phoned T-Mobile with me -- apparently it's a known issue -- and was able to escalate my issue to the top with no ruffled feathers, and now I'm just waiting on T-Mobile to flip the switch that allows people from 415 (and neighboring) area codes to forward calls to any number in the 714 area code (the root of the problem).

    not ideal, for sure, but a) YouMail is free, and b) their customer service kicks the butt of most paid services (including any healthcare I've ever experienced in the US).

    hopefully i'll be able to actually use YouMail by the end of the week. a girl can dream.

  6. Chad
    April 7, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I 've been on YM for nearly a year now and it's saved my bacon a few times when my crap Verizon phone died on me while traveling and another time when at a client's office in a basement i was able to reply to voicemails by email and text.
    I love, love, Youmail.

  7. Michael
    April 4, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Have you heard of GotVoice?

    • Dave
      April 5, 2008 at 10:16 am

      I've heard of it but it is a for-pay service which is why it isn't included here :).

      Re:Sprint, they have a per minute charge for this? I've never heard of that, but it is an issue with Sprint and not YouMail. I would think that Sprint would also charge this for any other voicemail provider as well.

  8. Scott
    April 4, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Looks great, but it doesn't work with Sprint without an outrageous per-minute charge (charged by Sprint, not YouMail), so I'll stick with my current services: Grand Central and Got Voice.

  9. wjgray
    April 4, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Been using youmail for well over a year and I am here to endorse it! It is wonderful for small business owners as I can create personalized messages for customers, different for friends and family, and a generic message for new callers. The new caller's phone and caller id are entered into your address book. This is later edited and a new personal message attached. Also nice is the fact that email notifications contain an mp3 of the call (no need to return to the site).

    Support was great the one time I had to call them.

    So seemless. So nice!

    (BTW... I use Jott too. Great service as well. Some funny transcriptions sometimes... but still a fabulous tool for small business owners like me. )

  10. Ron
    April 4, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Cool review. I'm curious, do you know if Youmail uses voice recognition or does someone in India transcribe the message (as Jott does-- which I thought was a joke when I heard it but apparently it's true). The thought of someone having to transcribe my stupid messages for my stupid life makes me sad.

    • Aibek
      April 5, 2008 at 6:49 am

      "... does someone in India transcribe the message (as Jott does– which I thought was a joke when I heard it but apparently it’s true) "

      Are you sure :-). That's hillarious. And I though they had a really good voice to text software.

    • Dave
      April 5, 2008 at 10:17 am

      That has to be an urban legend - lol. I can't imagine people sitting there transcribing all of those messages - but it is maybe the only way to get 100% accuracy on them!

      • Kent
        April 8, 2008 at 3:15 pm

        From what I've read, YouMail's speech to text transcription of voicemail is actually 100% automated and not sent overseas, but many of the other services actually are sent overseas. I think that's why Spinvox had to recently raise $100M and why those services charge a nice fee per month to have the service!

        What's actually pretty cool about youmail's speech service is their community correction tool - if the quality of an individual transcription is poor, you can contribute directly to making YouMail better by correcting the wording and sending it back to Youmail. They log the difference in their speech engines so that over time the quality of transcription just gets better and better. Brilliant use of the power of Community.

  11. Travis Quinnelly
    April 4, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Great solution Dave. You had mentioned that you were looking for a good service like this. I'm impressed...I'll be joining soon.