Fax: an unavoidable situation
Sometimes you need to send a fax. The odds are, however, that you do not have a fax machine. You could always pay to use a physical fax machine at your local office supply store, but they are not cheap to use and are usually difficult to understand. In addition, you need to make sure that the intended recipient receives a readable copy of the fax, which involves waiting for a confirmation as well.
Although all-in-one printers have replaced the beige beast with modem theft, online faxing services allow you to get rid of the machine altogether. These services provide a fax number that you can use to send or receive faxes through a web portal, email, or even through mobile applications. Faxing is still a pain in this day and age, but these services help modernize the experience.
All of the fax services we tested offer a web interface, but their usefulness varies greatly. Well-designed software can inspire user confidence, while archaic services can easily hurt you. If you use a service frequently, you want one that does not cause unnecessary friction.
HelloFax and mFax lead the pack here with well-designed and highly functional web interfaces that do not inhibit your workflow. EFax, MetroFax and MyFax have identical interfaces that look like webmail inboxes from a decade ago. Send2Fax is even more clunkier. These interfaces are not beautiful and look insignificant, but they send faxes reliably. The Biscom 1-2-3 interface is remarkably awful, since you can not actually send or receive emails from it.
Sending a fax from an online portal is usually quite simple; all you have to do is type a number. Most fax services also provide an online address book, which makes it much easier to send faxes to the same contact in the future. If desired, you can also include a cover page with the fax in most cases. In terms of attachments, all tested fax services support a wide range of file types, although the file size limit varies. Most of the services we've reviewed allow you to view the attachments before you send them. Some services, such as HelloFax, Fax.Plus, and eFax, include tools for digitally applying signatures and filling out forms.
Many online fax services now offer Android applications and iPhone applications that are useful for those times when you do not have a scanner handy or want to bother logging on to your computer. With a mobile fax application, you can simply take a photo of a document and send it on your way. Of the services we tested, the Biscom 1-2-3, eFax, Fax.Plus, MetroFax, MyFax and RingCentral offer mobile applications. We much prefer online faxing services with a dedicated mobile app, but at the very least, their web interface should resize well for screens of mobile devices. The mFax and FaxZero sites are very useful through mobile browsers.
Good mobile fax applications should have some standard features, such as a contact book, a selectable fax inbox, and a way to view attachments. A clean and intuitive design is also vital to make users forget the old underlying fax technology. Some services go beyond these basic principles. Fax.Plus, for example, allows you to digitally sign application documents.
E-mail to fax, fax to e-mail
Modern businesses and workers are very familiar with the email workflows and most of the fax services we tested offer similar features from fax to email. In practical terms, fax services convert incoming faxes into e-mail attachments and, on the contrary, transmute e-mail field attachments into their fax equivalents. Because you can send emails from anywhere, this approach makes the fax service more universally available.
The process of sending a fax via email is quite simple and does not vary greatly from service to service. Basically, you enter the fax number – including the country and area code – in the address line, followed by an "@" and a specific email domain for the fax service. The subject line and body text appear on the fax cover sheet, while any attachments appear as separate pages. Best of all, your fax number appears as the sender, so there is no confusion about where the message originated.
Time to pay the faxman
Most of the fax services we reviewed charge a monthly fee. What you get in return is a placement of pages to use that month. Sometimes companies distinguish between how many pages you receive and how many you can submit, which seems unnecessarily restrictive to us. Other services offer a page pool, which is a more flexible approach. With a pool of fax pages, you do not pay for, say, received pages you never use. Grouped page plans also make it easy to avoid paying surplus fees, which are per page rates assessed when you exceed your monthly allocation. These rates range from 3 to 12 cents per page, depending on the service.
HelloFax and Fax.Plus offer limited shipping-only layers, but the free FaxZero level is your best option, as your batch of fax pages to send replenishes every day. With these other services, you only get a single allocation before you start paying.
Note that depending on the service, your plan probably does not include international faxing, although faxes to Canada and the UK sometimes do not involve additional charges. Most companies make users pay an additional fee – sometimes on a graduated scale, depending on the location of the recipient and usually per page. We prefer services that deduct an equivalent number of pages from your monthly bundle, instead of those that charge an extra fee per page.
Installation fees are annoying and, fortunately, are a rarity in the world of online fax services. Only one of the services we tested, eFax, charges one ($ 10).
Your fax number
Most services allow you to select an area code and assign you an available phone number to receive and send faxes or allow you to choose from a list of available ones. Most services also allow you to port through an existing fax number if you have one. If you do not want people having to pay to send a fax, consider getting a free fax number. Most fax services offer free toll-free numbers. Other services, such as the Ring Central Fax, offer courtesy numbers, which you choose. For example, the 1-800-DOG-WLKR would be very suitable for a new dog walking startup that also needs a fax number.
Some services are better than others to sign up with an international number. For example, eFax and MyFax allow you to select a fax number with the country code of your choice at no extra charge.
Online fax performance
In general, most online fax services perform properly the basic faxing function. We always try to make sure that a real fax machine is involved in our tests, since it is important that a digital replacement works with the device it is intended to replace. However, we no longer have fax machines or copper telephones in our office.
As far as our test of online fax services is concerned, this was a minor problem. Instead of sending faxes between a physical machine and an online service, we simply send faxes between two different online services. Still, if we are sending faxes between two non-fax machines, how many other people are doing the same? At some point, faxing begins to seem an overly complicated alternative to email – especially if you're trying to run out of paper.
The prospect of buying a fax machine and paying for a dedicated landline to send in the occasional fax probably seems ridiculous to most people and for good reason. Unless your recipient absolutely needs you to fax information, other tools, including email and file sharing services, can do the job. For those rare cases where you have no other option, an online fax service is a better bet than a traditional fax machine. There are plenty of capable services in space so you are sure to find one that works for all your home and office needs.
Editor's note: eFax, MetroFax, MyFax and Send2Fax are owned by j2 Global, the parent company of PCMag publisher Ziff Davis.
Pros: Flexible prices. Excellent mobile applications and web interface. Free useful version. Integrates with Microsoft Office and Google services.
Cons: No two-factor authentication. The document signing tool is only available in mobile applications.
Summing up: Fax.Plus is an affordable, easy-to-use, feature-rich online fax service. Our main complaint? The lack of two-factor authentication.
Pros: Excellent interface. Supports digital signatures. Converts existing fax numbers. Teaming options and cloud storage integrations. Free option for shipping only. Good quality of fax.
Cons: No dedicated mobile app. Few fax numbers outside the US available. The site is not compatible with mobile devices.
Summing up: HelloFax is an excellent online fax service that offers a great user experience, good value and an integrated editor that simplifies the handling of attachments. However, a dedicated mobile app is missing.
Pros: Good value. Fax Scheduling Modern interface. No additional charge for the toll-free number. Supports large file attachments.
Cons: There are no international numbers. Offers confusing applications. Fax quality is below average.
Summing up: Fax RingCentral offers many pages per month and a modern multi-platform experience, but costs a lot per month and your fax quality can be better.
Pros: Free, local, international fax numbers available. Good quality of fax. Modern mobile apps. OCR features.
Cons: Signature monthly expensive. Single installation fee. Dated web interface and desktop application. Inappropriate password security during sign-up.
Summing up: EFax offers a wide range of faxing options and good mobile applications, but it is very expensive and more complicated to use on the desktop than the competition.
Pros: Free limited fax to US and Canada. International fax features. Good quality fax to text.
Cons: Can not receive faxes. Service levels paid are expensive. No application capabilities for mobile devices or email to fax. Bad manipulation of graphics in the test fax document.
Summing up: If you need to send (but not receive) a few faxes per month and you do not want to pay, FaxZero is your best option, despite the lack of advanced features and mobile applications.
Pros: Excellent value with low additional costs. Solid mobile applications. Good quality of fax.
Cons: Outdated web interface. There are no international fax numbers. It does not have advanced features such as signatures and editing. Handling problematic password during account setup.
Summing up: MetroFax is an online fax service with an outdated web interface, but we like the mobile application and the low monthly fee.
Pros: Excellent web interface. Good price. Team management features. Fax Scheduling
Cons: No mobile apps Poor fax quality on tests. Missing digital signature tool. Little flexibility in the registration process. No two-factor authentication
Summing up: MFax offers a well-designed and reasonably priced web interface, but it lacks a dedicated mobile application, digital signature features, and two-factor authentication.
Pros: Simple setup and fax. Free international fax numbers available. Good mobile apps.
Cons: Clumsy and outdated web interface. Restrictive price format. Hard to tell which international numbers are available during registration. No digital signature. Password reset process not guaranteed. No two-factor authentication.
Summing up: MyFax feels outdated, does not have the most sophisticated fax capabilities and is priced restrictively, but offers a good selection of international fax numbers as well as a mobile application.
Pros: Simple email integration. User management features.
Cons: High cost per page. No way to send faxes through the web interface. No choice of fax numbers. You can not send faxes to international numbers. Limited mobile applications.
Summing up: Biscom 1-2-3 turns your email client into a fax machine, but it's expensive and extremely limited in functionality and features. Remarkably, you can not actually send faxes from your web interface.
Pros: Affordable prices. Flexible options. Decent fax quality.
Cons: Stuttering web interface. An attachment could not be sent by email. There are no international or free numbers. Long fax times. You can not send faxes to international numbers. There are no mobile apps.
Summing up: Nextiva vFAX offers an affordable way to send and receive faxes online, but is hampered by limitations, slow performance, and a lack of more advanced features.