Connecting phones with the Internet has meant more than cheap long distance. A raft of tools now makes it easier to get organized and to get in touch with friends—or to avoid them. All the services are free, except for long distance or airtime charges paid to your phone company.
Most of these services also work with land lines. Sure, some of these tools come from start-ups whose future might be shaky, but they don't put your actual phone service at risk. Here are our five favorite free phone tricks:
• Slydial: If you have someone's U.S. cellphone number, dial Slydial to leave a voice message and dodge the chit-chat. The service somehow slips into the voicemail systems of wireless carriers and drops a message into a mailbox without ringing their phone. A free MYslydial account can assign four-number PINs to contacts for faster dialing. A premium version cuts out the short ads when making a call.
• Pinger: Similar to Slydial. When calling from a mobile phone, Pinger allows a sender to get a voice message to mobile customers in about 20 countries without ringing their cellphone. The service sends a text message to the recipient's mobile phone. They call the number that's included in the text message to receive the voice message. Pinger also can send the same message to multiple recipients.
• Phonevite: If blasting E-mail invitations seems so last century, send a voice message to as many as 25 friends and relatives. Type the numbers on Phonevite's site, dictate the message, and Phonevite calls the recipients simultaneously to deliver the recorded memo. Or sign up for an account and use any phone to dictate a message for delivery to a group. Great for last-minute changes to softball practice, recruiting a substitute, or reminding colleagues of a meeting.
• ReQall: Think of this as post-it notes for voice, and a lot more. Call reQall to dictate a to-do or shopping list, meeting reminder, or other item you need to remember. ReQall uses voice recognition software to turn the call into a text that appears in an account you sign up for on its site. It can even post meeting dates to some calendars, including Microsoft Outlook 2007, Apple iCal, and Google Calendar.
• YouMail: A free, pumped-up voicemail service for cellphones. Get voicemail messages via the phone, E-mail, or YouMail's site. The site lists who called and where he or she called from and displays his or her photo (if you've uploaded one). Callers can hear greetings customized specifically for them, and a "DitchMail" option hangs up on callers whose messages you don't want to hear.