Bring Back Visual Voicemail with HulloMail

Almost all carriers in the United States offer support for Visual Voicemail, a service introduced with the original iPhone that provides a more flexible way to manage your voicemail messages. No more dialling in to listen to a stream of messages in chronological order, instead the messages are downloaded to your iPhone automatically.

For the rest of the world, however, it’s a different story. Most carriers across mainland Europe don’t support the service, with only two carriers here in the UK (O2 and EE) officially supporting Visual Voicemail, but even then it’s not available on all price plans. In fact, more US carriers support Visual Voicemail than the rest of the world combined! HulloMail not only restores much of the functionality of Visual Voicemail to those without carrier support but it offers features that take it to a whole new level.

How it Works

HulloMail’s service is supported in the United States, UK and Ireland. When you first launch the app, you’re asked a few questions about the carrier you’re on and if you are using a contract or pre-paid service. This allows HulloMail to add a few new contacts for activating and deactivating the service.

Once you activate the service, any existing voicemail feature is disabled and unanswered calls will then be diverted to HulloMail, allowing callers to leave a message. Once a message is received, you’ll get a notification and the app will download any new messages. That’s HulloMail in a nutshell and it works as you’d expect.

Ugly Duckling

HulloMail's settings confusing to navigate through and are located in different parts of the app, depending on what you want to change.

HulloMail’s settings confusing to navigate through and are located in different parts of the app, depending on what you want to change.

The app itself is, quite frankly, hideous. It was looking pretty long in the tooth several iOS versions ago and, in iOS 7, it’s just ugly. Buttons and menus appear misaligned, the colours are harsh and the interface is cluttered and confusing. What I’d expect to be the settings is confusingly called the Menu. All of the various settings, options and In-App Purchases could easily, and neatly, reside under one section.

Fortunately, this ugly duckling is about to become a beautiful swan. The developers of HulloMail recently published a preview of their new layout that is designed for iOS 7 and it looks much, much better.

HulloMail isn't the best looking app for iOS but there is a new update due soon.

HulloMail isn’t the best looking app for iOS but there is a new update due soon.

New Messages

Fortunately, the poor interface doesn’t represent the service HulloMail provides and it works very well indeed. You’re able to connect HulloMail with your contacts list so that names and photos are displayed along with the messages. To do this, HulloMail does need a copy of your contacts list to be uploaded but you are given the choice to do this and it is entirely up to you. The benefit of doing so is that email notifications, a big part of HulloMail, can also include contact information.

Similar to the native Visual Voicemail service in iOS, messages are listed for you to pick which one you'd like to listen to.

Similar to the native Visual Voicemail service in iOS, messages are listed for you to pick which one you’d like to listen to.

Messages download almost instantly with the time and date, along with the duration of the message, displayed. Tapping a message reveals the playback screen and a collection of options that you can perform with it. Again, it’s not easy on the eyes but it’s hard to miss the large play button, along with some standard response options.

HulloMail also works as a messaging service, letting you send and receive voicemails to other HulloMail users without having to go through the process of a phone call. If a caller uses HulloMail, you can “Hullo Back”. From the main message list, you can even record and send HulloMail messages, with HulloMail showing you who on your contacts list is already using the service.

Beyond Visual Voicemail

HulloMail’s core functionality is free and ad-based. Without paying anything, you’re able to use HulloMail as a basic Visual Voicemail service. While you can listen to the messages on your iPhone, HulloMail provides a web portal for accessing messages, letting you access your messages regardless of whether you have your device to hand.

A web portal exists so that you can access your messages from anywhere in the world.

A web portal exists so that you can access your messages from anywhere in the world.

A premium option exists for just £5.99 a year, working out at less than 50p a month. For this, you’re able to take advantage of some of the additional features reserved for paying members. These include receiving MP3 versions of voicemails via email, the ability to save voicemails to Evernote and individual greetings make it well worth it. There are plenty of other features but its low cost makes it a bargain for any one of these features, let alone all of them.

Premium and Business subscriptions provide the ability to share to apps like Evernote.

Premium and Business subscriptions provide the ability to share to apps like Evernote.

A business subscription exists which is considerably more at £39.99 a year, offering the ability to have the first 30 seconds of your messages transcribed and displayed within the message preview. I’ve used transcription services before and they’re always hit and miss (just think of how often Siri gets it wrong) so try out the monthly option before you commit to a year.

While saving voicemails to Evernote is a great feature, to be able to send voicemails to other apps requires a business subscription and is otherwise locked. While the premium option is a steal at just £5.99 per year, the business option feels far too overpriced. The disparity between the two subscription options leaves a huge gap in the middle that seems to be overlooked.

Conclusion

Despite the app’s rather aged interface, HulloMail works very well and provides a great visual voicemail solution to those of us who have not been fortunate enough to be with a carrier that supports it. The premium option is a no-brainer, simply due to the fact it unlocks the ability to receive messages via email as well as being able to share voicemails to Evernote, though the business option doesn’t make much sense. At an additional £35 per year for what is effectively just transcribing, it’s a large pill to swallow – especially if you just want additional sharing options.

With an all-new iOS app in active development that revamps the interface, HulloMail may not be glamorous but it certainly does exactly what it sets out to do.


Summary

Despite an interface that is long overdue for an update, HulloMail provides a great alternative to the iPhone's Visual Voicemail while providing additional features at a great price.

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