MailBug provides access to e-mail with simple setup

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March 21, 2002|By Mike Himowitz

My mother-in-law turned 83 this month and decided it was finally time to get e-mail. But she didn't want the hassle of learning to use a computer.

So for her birthday, we bought her a $100 gadget called a MailBug from Landel Telcom of San Jose, Calif. If you have an older or technophobic relative who wants to get online, the MailBug is one of those technological rarities: a simple gadget that does one thing well.

At 10.5 inches wide, 7 inches deep and less than 3 inches high, the 2-pound MailBug won't overpower your desktop. Nonetheless, you get a sharp, backlit, 8-line LCD screen, a comfortable QWERTY keyboard and a variety of function keys that make it easy to browse through a list of mail, read incoming messages and compose new mail.

Just remember that the MailBug is a minimalist machine. It's designed to handle text-based e-mail only - with no attachments other than standard text files. There's no printer port, and room to store only 100 or so messages. The built-in address book has room for about 100 contacts.

Setup was easy - plugging the machine into a phone jack and a wall outlet.

With a toll-free call to Landel, I was able to set up Jenny's account and pick a user name. Entering basic information into the MailBug's setup screen took a couple of minutes, and then we were online.

The hardest part was teaching Jenny the rudiments of using a computer screen and keyboard, which made me glad we hadn't tried anything more complicated.

Still, at the end of an hour, she'd learned how to get the MailBug to dial its built-in 800 number, how to browse through incoming mail, compose a message and send it.

There are extras that could make the MailBug a useful tool for more experienced users. Although it uses Landel's proprietary e-mail service, the device can retrieve mail from any standard POP3 e-mail account.

If you don't have a laptop computer but want to collect e-mail while you're on the road or on vacation, it's a workable substitute for the real thing.

Landel also offers headline news, sports, weather and stock quotes from Lycos in straight text format.

The only real downside is the cost of the service: $12.95 a month is a bit pricey for e-mail alone.

But if you want to get Grandma online with a minimum initial outlay of money and grief, it's hard to find a gadget that's easier to use than the MailBug.

Information: 408-360-0480 or www.mailbug.com.

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