HelloFax review: Online faxing made simple

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hellofax review
(Image credit: HelloFax)

HelloFax keeps things clean and simple. This online fax service's options are fairly basic compared with the best online fax services like MetroFax or Fax.Plus, but it's also simpler to sign up for and use the service. Even better, it has the best free tier among the faxing services we've tested if you only need to send a fax once in a while.

User beware, though: The creators of HelloFax have built in plenty of gamification, too, which will be frustrating to professionals more interested in features and services that work now, and less interested in a rewards system based on sharing with friends or doing specific tasks.

HelloFax review: Pricing

The service has a limited free offering for sending faxes, but it's probably the reason you should pay attention to HelloFax. Using the service, you can send up to five pages for free. That's not a lot — GotFreeFax and FaxZero are more generous with their limits. But their service isn't as good as what HelloFax offers.

Once you use up your five free pages, HelloFax charges a very reasonable rate for per-page faxes. You'll pay 99 cents per fax for up to 10 pages with additional pages after that costing 20 cents each. That means if you only have to send a fax every now and again, that HelloFax is more than affordable and doesn't require you to sign up for one of its service plans.

If you need to receive faxes, you will need to sign up for a paid plan, which also includes support for multiple recipients and other features not available on the free tier. Paid options start at $9.99 per month (good for 300 pages sent, for five team members — the price is $99.99 when billed annually). The Professional plan costs $19.99 per month (500 pages sent, for 10 team members; or $199.99 when billed annually). The team component is unusual among faxing services, which generally only accommodate one user. This feature allows team members send and receive faxes from that account.

Free Trial: HelloFax's paid plans all feature 30-day free trials.

HelloFax review: Setup

To set up a HelloFax account, you can log in using an email address. When you sign up, you'll get a fax number in the area code of your choosing. You can transfer your current number, but to do so you need to contact the company. You can also add additional fax lines to your account, for $4.99 each.

HelloFax review: User interface

HelloFax's interface is very clean and friendly to use — mostly. It looks beautiful, but gets bogged down in confusing nomenclature. For example, a left navigation bar makes it easy to send faxes, but finding your archive requires you to select Documents. 

The left navigation pane also has options for signing documents using the eSignature HelloSign service, adjusting the service's settings and administering the Team settings. You can create a team and invite additional users, by email address, to the team. As the administrator, you control these settings, but those you designate for the team can then access and send faxes for that team's number, too. 

You can invite users with any email address domain, a boon compared to some team-based software; if an invitee doesn't already have a HelloFax account, an invitation to a team will create an account for that person.

HelloFax review

As the name of the section implies, Documents simply shows a running list of all documents you've sent. The problem is that it only shows the file name, if it was a fax sent or received, and the date. This approach is not very organized, and will get very messy and unwieldy if you have a high volume of inbound and outbound faxes. Searching is limited to email address or document title, while the filters are of limited usefulness due to their lack of specificity (for example, you can sort on faxes sent or received, but not by date, too).

I found the lack of document tracking, tagging and organization especially surprising considering that HelloFax is the only service I tested that aims for teams and workgroups. Even the basic Home Office plan lets you invite up to four other users to access and use the same number.

HelloFax review: Cloud and file format support

HelloFax is the only service I tested that integrates with Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive and Evernote to store, access and receive files. Using the HelloFax add-on for Google Docs makes it simple to send a fax from within your document. 

HelloFax doesn't specify the number of file types it supports, but does say it handles "a wide range of files," and lists among them DOC, DOCX, PDF, PPSX, PPT, PPTX, TIF, JPG, PNG, XLS, XLSX, TXT, HTML and GIF.

HelloFax review: Gamification

The gamification element is readily evident when you go into HelloFax's Getting Started page. For example, if you add a password, you get five free pages. If you create a signature, you get another five free pages. Should you tweet or share on Facebook, or invite friends to join, you get even more pages. When you import contacts from Gmail or Yahoo, more free pages are your reward. 

If you're on the free plan where you pay as you go, perhaps these free pages will be meaningful. But if you're on a paid plan, the gamification feels gimmicky and unprofessional. 

HelloFax review: E-signature support

HelloFax is one of two services I tested with electronic signature support (Sfax is the other). I found this feature incredibly compelling; however, it remains an extra-cost option beyond your first free documents.

The e-signature component remains a work-in-progress that's confusing to use, even though HelloSign broke out as a separate service a few years ago. The create-a-signature portion in the Getting Started section makes it easy to add a signature to the HelloFax system, either by drawing on-screen using your mouse or finger (for touch screens), or adding a signature by typing it in, uploading an image file, or using a smartphone to take a photo of a signature and sending it to the system. The e-signature is legally binding, per U.S. and international law — the 2000 U.S. Electronic Signature in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN), the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) and the European Directive (EC/1999/93).

While setting up a signature is surprisingly straightforward, using one is not.

While setting up a signature is surprisingly straightforward, using one isn't. You can add a signature during the editing of a fax. But if you tap on Sign Documents in the left navigation pane, it bounces you to HelloFax's HelloSign service. The login is not only the same, it's seamless — just the interface changes to reflect that you're now logged into HelloSign. But it's still confusing why you'd go to the HelloSign site to begin with. And to understand the difference, you'll have to nose around the HelloSign service to see that it's targeted at businesses who require workflow and want to circulate signed documents via email, not just fax.

Your first three documents signed are free, and that still gives you integration with Google Drive, and an audit trail to track all activity, and by whom, on a given document. To get unlimited documents, you'll have to pay for the Pro plan, which also gives wider support with Google apps and other cloud services.

HelloFax review: Performance

Sending faxes is as simple as it gets with HelloFax. It's broken into two steps. First, you'll first upload files. To do this, you can drag files, tap the upload button or select an upload from one of the cloud-storage options. After the file is uploaded, you can choose to edit and sign the document before faxing. I particularly liked that I could add initials or a checkmark to a specific spot on the fax, and choose to add a signature.

To complete the process, you then enter the fax number or email address to send to, and hit send now. Off the fax goes. I saw no noticeable lag or delay. You can also send a fax directly from email, by attaching a file to email and send to 10-digit fax number (no "1" required), followed by @hellofax.com. Oddly, you don't get a confirmation that your fax transmitted. Nor are you allowed custom cover pages (though this feature is under review by the company).

Inbound faxes are sent to you as a PDF, and can also be viewed in the Documents area. The settings let you control whether to get a notification when you send a document, and choose whether to include a PDF copy in both incoming faxes and outbound notifications.

HelloFax review: Mobile apps

HelloFax lacks a dedicated mobile app (though if you type in HelloFax to either Apple’s or Google’s app stores, you’ll get redirected to HelloSign). You can send a fax via an email attachment, but there’s no dedicated app for viewing or storing faxes on your mobile.

HelloFax review: Verdict

I found a lot to like about HelloFax, both in its ease-of-use and its features — two factors that will appeal to people who need a free service. I lament the lack of organization and searchability I'd expect, as well as the lack of confirmations and custom cover pages. But HelloFax has a strong foundation, and both its cloud storage integration for inbound and outbound faxes and its electronic signature capabilities are compelling benefits that put it ahead of its competition.

However, the service's confusing integration with HelloSign and other interface oddities detract from its appeal for paid users, as does its lack of meaningful mobile apps and fax management. Plus, it's more expensive than other paid services, delivering hundreds fewer pages for the monthly dollar than most of the competition. In these areas, our top pick, MetroFax, outpaces HelloFax in spades.

Melissa Perenson is a freelance writer. She has reviewed the best tax software for Tom's Guide for several years, and has also tested out fax software, among other things. She spent more than a decade at PC World and TechHive, and she has freelanced for numerous publications including Computer Shopper, TechRadar and Consumers Digest.