Review: Phone Valet 2.0

On-screen caller ID, voice dial, and multiple voicemail mailboxes (July 13th, 2004)

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Product Manufacturer: Parliant

Price: $200 (MSRP)

The Good

  • Product comes with all needed tools, simple installation, voice mail capabilities (including audio file save), easy custom configuration for additional features, call recording, works with IP telephone providers.

The Bad

  • Doesnít work on digital phone lines or call waiting, $200 price point.

Wow.

It's rare that I find business software that does what it says it'll do, and does it in such a way that I don't have to take a graduate course in something to figure out how to make it work. But the new version of Parliant's PhoneValet does precisely that. And in doing so, it's provided me with a tool that I find myself using constantly, and being more productive as a result.

The new version is being introduced to the market; its $200 price tag may scare more than a few folks off. But for those who buy PhoneValet, they'll find it to be a great deal.

The new version (2.0) includes all of the features from the first go-round, including on-screen Caller ID, voice activated automated dialing, and more. However, it also introduces a new set of features that makes PhoneValet a tremendous asset to me. Case in point: I was on a conference call the other day, and found myself wanting to record what a participant was saying. Using Microsoft Office 2004, I could have recorded the call, but I would have had to put the phone call on speakerphone. PhoneValet allowed me to record the call directly with two simple mouse clicks, then play it back within seconds. The tonal quality was excellent; Parliant's engineers have incorporated gain control, so that my voice didn't over-modulate or drown out the others. And they also allow you to save the recording as a separate file, either in AAC, WAV or 3GPP formats, so it can be easily shared. (Use an audio editing program like Amadeus, and you can edit out snippets to ship to others, so that the file size is reduced sharply.)

PhoneValet also allows you to set up multiple answering options ("For Bob, press 1; for Nancy, press 2; for Scooter the dog, press 3") and multiple mailboxes. Again, configuring the software is easy, especially if you read the well-written manual that comes with it.

The product is more than just software. It came bundled with everything I needed to make it go right out of the box (no side trips to Radio Shack): a hardware telephone adapter, USB cable, telephone cable and splitter. The splitter plugged into the wall jack. The software installed and I was up and running in less than five minutes. And that's saying something.

It's the little touches, though, that really impress me about PhoneValet. I'm constantly using iChat to keep in touch with contacts; when I pick up the phone, an Apple Script automatically resets my status to "away," and reverts back when I end the call. The application also runs in the background; I don't have to launch it to make it work. When I do launch it, it presents me with a full list of calls made, both incoming and outgoing. Adding additional names to the address book is easy as well, giving me the option to configure numbers for local or long-distance dialing, regardless of how many numbers you have to dial. (Users who need to dial ten digits for a local call will appreciate this feature.) You can also configure it to automatically send emails to your wireless phone, if you're out of the office and miss a call. I won't use this feature, but I know plenty of people who can benefit from it.

You can also easily export the data you've collected in your call logs into an Excel spreadsheet. This is a handy tool, if you want to bill back phone costs to a client, or need to analyze your phone patterns. And the company's president tells me that PhoneValet can be used with IP telephony services like Vonage; plug the splitter into the back of the conversion box, and you're set to roll.

PhoneValet, alas, isn't perfect. For instance, if you have call waiting, the features will not activate if you simply flip from one call to another. You'll have to end your first call and move to the second call for the on-screen name and logging features to work. That simply wasn't possible on the conference call I mentioned above. It does not work with digital phone lines, meaning it may not be usable in some offices. And the price, frankly, may be rather steep for the SOHO market that Parliant is targeting, especially if you consider that a standalone answering machine can be had for $40 or so, and that many phone services like MCI now automatically bundle voice mail at no additional charge.

Bottom line: PhoneValet is an easy-to-use, timesaving device that allows me to be more productive. And it doesn't get simpler than that.

by Steve Friedberg


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