YouMail: Free visual voice mail for BlackBerry, with some kinks

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While visual voicemail through Verizon carries an additional charge, and is only offered on select devices through others, YouMail today launched its carrier-agnostic free visual voicemail app for BlackBerry. Betanews took a look.

The YouMail application is available directly through the native browser on handsets running BlackBerry OS version 4.3 and up. Only T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T Wireless subscribers can currently use YouMail's new utility after first signing up for a YouMail account. That is best done through the YouMail Web site, as the application is still rough around the edges.

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In Betanews tests, we struggled to get YouMail to process voice mails. On a BlackBerry Storm that is already equipped with visual voice mail, we downloaded and installed the YouMail application, and followed the on-screen prompts to set up an account.

It should be noted that I'm a fan of the Storm's soft keyboard...as long as it's in landscape mode. The clickable-touchscreen of the Storm is tolerable, but when you're forced to use the keyboard in portrait mode, where each key is responsible for two letters and a host of characters, some from foreign alphabets, you're just asking for typos.

After we left numerous voice mails, not a single message showed up in the YouMail inbox. We were told the application wasn't working because we never actually "forwarded our phone" in the setup process, which apparently is a common problem, and that the UI is being re-worked so the step will be more obvious.

In situations like this, I always think I must be some kind of moron, like the kind of person who will click "OK" on any popup window and then angrily ask why their computer is constantly riddled with spyware. So we started over, and went through the steps on the YouMail site, again to no avail. Somewhere along the line, the UI changed without any concerted effort on our part, but we remained unable to access the existing voice mails.

It seemed at this point that our actions were not doing YouMail any favors, so the time came to pull out the old reboot card. Eventually, the Storm came back on, with six messages still in the Verizon visual voice mail queue but still not in YouMail. We called a seventh time, this time while YouMail was the active on-screen app. The stars were finally in line and YouMail took the message. The previous six, however, were still not accessible.

In terms of free applications, setup hassles like ours can be considered a down payment for a decent service, which YouMail delivers. Sure, the UI was not formatted for the Storm, and swapping to landscape mode is still non-existent, but YouMail serves up free visual voice mail as promised, and users of other BlackBerry devices can expect a UI designed for their screens. Text transcription can also be added, but that tacks on a minimum $3.99 monthly premium.

One of the most unique features of YouMail is something that appears to be borrowed from the Xbox 360: a profile page called "My Accomplishments." On the YouMail Web interface, a list of things that can be done with the service are listed, each marked either "Completed!" with a date and time, or "Not Complete---Show me How!" It sounds silly, but seeing the pseudo-congratulatory list made the less-than-simple setup almost feel rewarding, in the "everybody gets a trophy day" sort of way.

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