Google Voice finds a rival in 3jam | The Download Blog - CNET Download.com

Google Voice finds a rival in 3jam

Start-up 3jam offers an open public beta of a communications service that's similar, but not identical to, Google Voice.

Google Voice logo

If you're itching to try Google Voice, but haven't received one of the coveted private beta invites, a Menlo Park, Calif., company called 3jam is offering an alternative.

This week, 3jam announced an open beta of its new voice forwarding and transcription service that bears a striking resemblance to Google Voice (covered here).

There are differentiating factors, though. Google Voice for instance, gives you a single central number that all your other numbers forward to--cell phone, work line, home phone, and VoIP. It employs call screening and machine-facilitated visual voice mail transcription. Using it, you can block calls, record custom greetings, and interact with SMS. You can't port your number yet, but Google hopes to offer this convenience in the future.

Google Voice is a free service that is only available in the U.S., and only then to those with invites. Previous GrandCentral users also got an automatic in, since they had joined the service before Google snatched it up.

3jam.com

In addition to receiving e-mailed transcriptions, 3jam stores voice mail audio and transcripts online.

(Credit: 3jam)

Start-up 3jam, on the other hand, gives you the option of choosing one or more phone numbers. It, too, routes calls to VoIP, including Skype (Windows | Mac) and IM voice services such as Yahoo Messenger with Voice (Windows | Mac). Like Google's product, you can manage texts and visual voice mail messages online. Unlike Google Voice, you can preserve your original phone number by porting it over to 3jam's service. 3jam also supports voice-to-text machine transcription and SMS routing. It's a premium service and is available internationally in an open beta.

3jam has arrived at its similar competing service from a background in group text messaging. As such, it has not yet incorporated some of Google Voice's more advanced voice features, like call screening, call blocking, and listening in. It does, however, convert text messages to e-mail copy, allowing you to receive and respond to SMS messages via e-mail.

With its provision of multiple phone numbers, 3jam hopes to leverage its SMS strength by offering users the ability to text groups of people at one of those permanent group numbers--the intramural sports team, book club, fund-raising committee, and so on.

Pricing and carrier details

Whether you port your current mobile number to 3jam or get a brand-new number, 3jam is an after-market add-on service you purchase alongside your mobile and landline plan. When you port your number, your carrier will bestow a new one that you'll keep on record, but won't pass out to family or friends. Instead, they'll dial the old number (now the 3jam number) to ring you simultaneously on all lines.

3jam beta costs $4.99 with a 12-month subscription, but price is indirectly proportional to commitment. A three-month bundle costs $5.99, and you'll pay $8.99 for one month. The charge won't include texting rates, which 3jam will tack on for $5 to $20 per month.

3jam does not replace your mobile data plan.

How does it all stack up? 3jam may find it difficult to compete against the free Google Voice when Google's service opens up to all, especially if it's lacking some of Google Voice's more sophisticated screening and blocking tricks. However, its global availability, offer to keep your beloved cell phone number, and support for multiple lines will make it more attractive to some, at least until Google Voice begins operating on a global scale.

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