Web & communication software

Phlink 3.0

Phlink 3.0.1 is a telephony automation application for Mac OS X that connects your Mac to a phone line and provides you with a simple hardware and software setup and interface for handling phone calls. Using the included adapter, you can connect both a phone line and a standard, residential phone using one USB port. Once connected and installed, Phlink turns your Mac into a telephone hub designed to save you time and enhance the way you deal with phone communications.

Version 3 adds a number of worthwhile new features that make it a valuable upgrade for users who are already using version 2.2 (   ). Most notably, Phlink has added Call Snooping, which lets Phlink automatically store a recorded copy of the phone call’s audio on your Mac for later review through Phlink or any other app that can play AIFF audio files. But sometimes recording glitches can occur. For example, Phlink doesn’t always know precisely when to start recording and when to stop because it relies on silence detection. Some recordings may contain touch tones at the beginning, prior to the time the call was connected, or silence at the end, after the call was ended. Though Phlink’s call recording capabilities should work well enough for most users, it’s worth noting that PhoneValet 4.0 (   ), a competitor, doesn’t exhibit these minor recording problems.

Also new in version 3 is support for the YAC (Yet Another Caller ID) protocol—a signaling standard that lets you display the caller IDs of incoming callers on your television via a TiVo device. Phlink 3’s call log now offers a handy one-click call-back function, so it’s a snap to dial and connect return calls. In this release, Ovolab has also added a voice mailbox set-up wizard, which simplifies the task of setting up Phlink’s flexible message recorder. Version 3 also addresses audio problems caused by certain USB hubs. Plus, the newest edition is Universal, so it will cruise right along on the newest Intel-based Macs.

As in previous versions, Phlink 3 lets you establish voice mailboxes to record messages from callers and design automated greetings to interact with them. You can also record calls or use Phlink’s automatic dialer to dial entries from Apple’s Address Book. At its simplest, you can use Phlink to log caller ID, time, and duration of every call. On a more complex level, you could program AppleScripts to link Phlink with other Mac desktop apps to build a phone-accessible home automation or information retrieval system. For example, you could build a fax-back system that allows users to request documents to be faxed to them.

As with its competitor, PhoneValet, there’s a lot of flexibility in how the software can deal with calls. For instance, you can have automated greetings behave differently based on caller ID. You can have Phlink save an audio recording of every call, or selectively record a particular call in-progress by manually toggling the recording option. If your Phlink call log has a lot of calls in it, you can set up call lists, which are similar to playlists in iTunes. They display a subset of the call log information.

Phlink bears the brushed-metal user interface to which we’ve grown familiar. Like iLife’s applications, Phlink’s interface is clear-cut and minimal. It embeds Apple’s Address Book contact records into its call log browser—which is ideal if you make heavy use of Address Book, but somewhat of a distraction if you prefer a different contact manager. Thanks to Apple’s Bonjour network technology, Phlink lets other Macs receive caller ID notifications when incoming calls occur, so caller ID pop-ups will appear on their displays, too. Phlink’s support of Apple’s Automator allows you to, for example, create a list of contacts, call them, and play an announcement or reminder to each of them. Phlink also gives Tiger users two Dashboard widgets, which provide a call log and a dialer.

Macworld’s buying advice

Phlink 3.0.1. is a well-designed application that is ideally suited to individuals who want to get a handle on their day-to-day phone routine. While PhoneValet offers more business-oriented features, Ovolab has done a superior job of integrating Phlink with OS X’s unique capabilities like Automator and Dashboard.

[ Ted Wallingford is the author o f Switching to VoIP and VoIP Hacks (O’Reilly, 2005) and an independent technology consultant based in Elyria, Ohio. He semi-annually updates his Web site. ]

When you receive a call, Phlink pauses iTunes tracks and a translucent window pops up with the caller ID of the incoming caller.Phlink’s voice-mail recorder allows you to forward recorded messages to a different e-mail recipient for each voice mailbox.

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