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The Tell A Phone Voice-Activated Dialer

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These days, it seems every gadget has its own address book. Your contact numbers are stored in your Palm Pilot, cell phone, cordless handset, or computer—or each one of them. But all too often, the number you want is located in only one of these devices…and you may not be able to remember which one! Furthermore, once you have the right device, you have to scroll down through your entire address list to find the entry.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds this process tiresome...

Well, a new device from Mindmaker is moving toward alleviating this problem. Their product, Tell A Phone, allows you to use your computer as your central address book. Once a number is stored, you don't have to flip through a directory or remember which gadget has which number on it. Simply pick up any phone attached to your main phone line and say the name of the person you want to call. Your Tell A Phone voice-dialing software will then dial the number for you.

And this is only the beginning of Tell A Phone's features. It also:

  • announces Caller ID information for incoming calls, via your PC's speakers
  • maintains a call log of all incoming and outgoing activity
  • records selected telephone conversations on your hard drive
  • and keeps an automatically updated directory of airlines, local restaurants, and movie theatres (with a list of currently playing titles!)

This has to be one of the more impressive products I've run across lately. It's loaded with features, it's easy to set up, and it's incredibly inexpensive: just $99.99.

Up and running in under a minute

When setting up the Tell A Phone, you don't have to train the speech recognition software, nor do you need to rewire your phone lines. Simply attach the hardware—which is the size of a very small cell phone—between your computer's USB port and your main phone jack. Other phones in the house will be automatically networked through existing internal wires.

You do need a decent computer, though. The minimum requirements include: a Pentium 266 processor; 32 MB RAM; 20 MB of hard disk space; Windows 98, 2000, Me, or XP; a Windows-compatible sound card and speakers; a 256-color video adapter and monitor; and (optional) Caller ID service from your local phone company. I recommend at least 64 MB RAM and a slightly better processor, though. Otherwise, the product may occasionally crash your system.

Once you've hooked up the hardware and installed the software from the CD-ROM, you're done. Contacts can be easily imported from Outlook, Palm Pilots, and other programs.

One unfortunate limitation: your phone line must be analog. If you're connected to a PBX you won't be able to use Tell A Phone.

Just say the word(s)
Each entry in your PC's address book entry can be dialed by saying the full name ("Michelle Flaherty") or part of it ("Michelle"). If you have two Michelles in your address book, Tell A Phone will prompt you for the right one. No speech recognition training is required, but you will want to test each name by using the SAY IT button to make sure pronunciation is correct. Tell A Phone won't accept 2-letter names, so if you have a friend named Ed, spell it Edd. Overall, however, the speech recognition works exceptionally well. As long as I spoke up, I never had to repeat myself.

Another convenience is the incoming call announcement feature. Whenever a call comes in, whether or not the caller is in your address book, Caller ID information will be announced through your computer's speakers. Obviously, you must subscribe to Caller ID from your local phone company for this service to work.

Now playing in a theatre near you
Okay, here's a feature with a high "wow" factor. Using Tell A Phone's eDial option, in about 10 seconds of time you can download a list of phone numbers for airlines, restaurants in your neighborhood, and local movie theatres. When I did the update, numbers for all of my favorite San Francisco eateries in my favorite neighborhoods were downloaded, along with information for restaurants in the surrounding areas. The theatre listings even tell you which films are playing at each location!

Then, when you click on any of these establishments and pick up your phone, the number is immediately called so you can make reservations or book tickets on the spot. If you set the automatic eDial update for Friday mornings, your movie info will always be current.

So let's say you use the eDial feature to get movie listings and then call for times, but you don't have a pen handy. By pressing * 3 times, the phone conversation will be stored onto your hard drive. When you want to listen to your recording later, just open up the call log. This log stores the name, number, date, and call length of all incoming and outgoing activity onto your hard drive. If you have recorded a portion of a call, this will also be indicated. Double-clicking such an entry will play your .wav file.

Final comments
Given the variety of uses for Tell A Phone, you'd expect it to be priced fairly high. Not so. At just $99.99, this easy-to-set-up device will enable you to dial a contact from your desk—or couch—without doing anything more than picking up the receiver and talking.

 

What I Liked Best   What I Didn't Like
  • Excellent speech recognition
  • Ability to import contacts
  • Easy setup with no voice training
  • eDial for restaurants and movie listings
  • Telephone conversation recording
  • Very small price tag
 
  • Works with analog phone lines only



 


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