By JR Raphael
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
It’s no secret cell service isn’t cheap. What you may not know, though, is how many cool tools are out there just waiting to make your life easier. Most of them are free, and all of them will help you get more bang for your buck. So grab your stylus and start taking notes — this is stuff you don’t want to miss.
Your on-call assistants
Ever get a brilliant idea on-the-go or in the car and have nowhere to write it down? These first two services are hand-crafted for you. First up is Braincast. The free utility gives you a customized 800 number to call and connect to your email address. Once you set up your account (about a two minute process), you’re linked up and ready to roll. Dial in, record a message, and it’ll be automatically sent to you as an audio attachment.
Don’t want to deal with re-listening to your brilliant ramblings? A company called Jott takes the Braincast concept and kicks it up a notch with an added text transcription feature. Also free, Jott has you go through a one-time easy setup, then, like BrainCast, assigns you a custom toll-free number. The difference here is that when you call and leave a message, Jott actually turns it into text and sends it as a regular message to your email. And it works pretty well, too — I didn’t have a single transcription error in any of my test runs. Jott even gives you the extra option of linking up with friends and family so you can send them voice-to-text emails on the go (though my girlfriend wasn’t too happy when I suggested we cut the phone calls and use this for all future communication).
If you’re a fan of saving money without exerting effort, this next one’s for you. Cellfire will send paperless coupons to your phone that you can use to get discounts or even free stuff at all sorts of stores. Instead of presenting an actual paper coupon, you just flash the clerk the code from your phone, and you get the deal.
All you’ve gotta do is sign up on their site and select which savings you want. Cellfire promises never to spam your phone or send you content you didn’t request.
Some of the deals up for grabs right now: free food at Subway, free haircuts at SuperCuts, and even free portraits at Sears. I need to hurry up and finish this damned article so I can get some lunch and a stylin’ new do before my photo shoot.
Name that tune
This one’s not free, but it’s still interesting (and cheap) enough to warrant a mention. 411-SONG offers a unique service to help you figure out the band behind any song on the radio. All you do is call their toll-free number from your cell, hold the phone up to the radio for 15 seconds, and it swears it can tell you who’s singing. You can try it once for free, then it’s 99-cents a pop or four bucks a month for unlimited calls.
Cut out the phone tree
Nothing’s more annoying than calling a bank or airline and having to navigate through seven minutes of menus before you get a person. That’s where Bringo comes in. The free service lets you pick what company you want to call, then it wanders the maze of menus for you and rings your cell phone when it has an actual human on the line. Not too shabby.
When you’re trying to make plans and need to reach a bunch of people, you might want to give Foonz a try. This freebie takes down the numbers of all your friends. It’ll then send them each a text message with instructions to call a special number to get in on your conference call. It’s a one stop, simple way to get everyone together without having to do all the work. You can also try Free Conference Call for pre-planned, large group conferences.
411 for free
The days of paying a dollar for phone numbers are over. My friends, meet GOOG-411. If you haven’t yet used this service, now is the time to start. You just dial 1-800-GOOG-411, and everyone’s favorite search engine will help you find any business listing you need. It’ll even connect you at no charge.
For personal numbers, you can try 1-800-FREE-411. This one will make you listen to a slightly annoying ad to get your info, but it will look up anyone’s home number and put you right through.
The fun doesn’t stop at phone numbers. You can get almost any kind of information for free from your phone now, thanks to the kind folks at Google. Their Google Mobile service lets you send any normal search query to GOOGLE (466453), and seconds later, they’ll text you back with the results. Try it to:
- Get the forecast. Text “weather” followed by your zipcode.
- Find movies playing near you. Text “movies” plus your zipcode.
- Track down the nearest pizza joint. Text “pizza” plus your zipcode.
- Translate languages. Text “translate hello in spanish”
- Get quick currency conversions. Text “20 usd in yen”
- Get directions, maps, or flight status — just like you’d search for them in Google.
- And need sports scores? Just text in a team name, and it’ll hit you back with the latest numbers. You’ve gotta love Google.
So there you have it — plenty of powerful cell phone secrets to let you play and help you save. Don’t let these go to waste.
Your phone has another hidden power: It can let you monitor your home from miles away. I’m talking about a kind of high-tech security that works with almost any cell phone and can give your family a whole new level of protection. Join us next week when we check it out. I may even show you my fantastic new haircut.