Gadget allows access to e-mail away from PCIf you're...

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November 01, 1999

Gadget allows access to e-mail away from PC

If you're looking for low-cost access to e-mail when you're away from your computer -- or maybe you don't have a computer at all -- Vtech's e-Mail Postbox ($99) is a worthwhile solution.

The small, lightweight computer (under 2 1/2 pounds with batteries) has a full-sized keyboard and a small, eight-line LCD screen. Like other gadgets of this type, it makes me wonder whether seniors and others will have trouble with the dinky screen and small characters. It does have a large font feature, which helps.

The e-Mail Postbox setup may be a bit gnarly for newbies. The "Quick Start" documentation has very small type and requires 20 steps. You'd think a gadget geared to "late adopters" would be more inviting to such users. But once you carefully run through the setup, you shouldn't have much trouble.

The Postbox requires an account with Vtech's e-mail gateway, which costs less than $10 a month if you buy a year upfront. The device does not let you pick up mail directly from other services, so if you want to use it with an existing e-mail account, you'll have to have your messages forwarded to Vtech's system.

One nice feature is an expansion slot that allows you to save important messages on removable memory cards. An 8-megabyte card sells for $19.99. The unit's main memory can hold up to 400 messages. It has a Memo feature so you can use the Postbox as a family message board or for short note taking. A calendar program, clock and calculator are also included.

The e-Mail Postbox has limitations that will make it useful only to a select audience. For those looking for a second e-mail box on the kitchen table, on the road, or for those who just haven't been able to afford the Internet until now, the e-Mail Postbox is definitely worth investigating.

Information: 888-GO-VTECH or in cyberspace: www.vtech.com.

- Gareth Branwyn

Bag keeps laptops safe from thumps, thieves

Spire's Zoom ($120) isn't your usual laptop case. For one thing, it's a backpack. It's also available in black, gray, red or yellow. And it doesn't sport a brand-name logo. This combination makes the Zoom a stealth bag, one that doesn't scream, "Steal me!" the way your standard-issue black laptop carrying case does.

The Zoom also provides plenty of protection for your computer. It fits well, and it has chest and hip straps, so it attaches to your body securely.

The Zoom is large enough to hold the biggest laptops; Dell's Inspiron 7000 and Apple's PowerBook G3 are mentioned specifically. The backpack comes with an outer mesh pocket as well as one outside and two inner compartments. There's room inside for a reasonable number of peripheral gadgets -- enough to make it almost uncomfortably heavy -- but the Zoom is clearly not meant to carry everything you could possibly need.

I've carried many laptop computers in many different cases, and Spire's Zoom backpack is my new favorite. Its solid construction and thoughtful design stand out in a field crowded with generic rectangular bags that do little to protect your computer. Zoom's reasonable price is icing on the cake.

Information: 303-444-9454 or on the Web at: www.spireusa.com.

- Andrew Sasaki

For reviews of computers and other electronics, check out www.streettech.com.

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