Cell phone receives wireless e-mail

Put some POP in your pocket.


The Post Office Protocol pushes e-mail to the phone in your pocket via AT&T Corp.'s
PocketNet cellular service. PocketNet combines features not usually found on a wireless
phone--or even on most personal digital assistants.


The e-mail, contact database, scheduling and basic Web surfing almost make the handheld
phone more a PDA than a cellular phone. PocketNet stands out from other wireless services
for keeping in touch. I did, however, encounter some glitches as I carried the handy phone
across America.


PocketNet doesn't have complete nationwide coverage yet. In the heavily networked
Washington area, PocketNet had trouble patching into the wireless network to download
e-mail or check the contact database. On a good day, an
e-mail message took about 15 minutes to arrive.


In Houston, I had trouble making phone calls, but less than 100 miles away in Austin,
Texas, PocketNet worked flawlessly. In Chicago, calls were fine, but I couldn't get
e-mail.


Outgoing calls from the phone worked great. I was on a roaming network wherever I went,
however, so incoming calls arrived sporadically. I longed for voice mail.


Entering an e-mail text message on the numeric keypad proved frustrating and took time.
But the phone has a smart setting that often correctly makes assumptions about the next
letter.


For example, as on a Touch-Tone phone, the number 8 represents TUV, and 4 covers GHI.
Pressing 8 brings up a T, but when you press 4, H pops up first instead of G. Pause a
moment, then press 4 again, and the letter I appears. Hit the 6 for MNO, and N shows up.
Keying in 5 for JKL brings up a K.


Think about it; you also would have pressed five keys to enter "think" on an
alphanumeric keyboard.


Typing doesn't always go that fast, so short messages are almost obligatory.


Other PocketNet subscribers can visit a Web site and send a message with up to six
customized responses. AT&T should make this service available to everyone; a Web site
for sending messages without the response option is available to the public.


Getting e-mail also needs to be easier. The you've-got-mail alert is a short beep.
PocketNet needs an option for constant beeps, similar to a pager. You must drill down a
few menus to get your messages. E-mail should pop up on the display when it comes in,
again like a pager.


At the PocketNet Web site, a subscriber can enter contact and schedule information
using a standard browser plug-in. You can buy a software filter to upload the information
from packages such as Microsoft Outlook 97 and Act 3.0 from Symantec Corp. of Cupertino,
Calif. AT&T also has direct links into Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise for
collaboration.


The Web browsing is pretty basic because the phone can display only three lines of
text. But it's handy for weather reports and brief news updates.


PocketNet does need improvements, but it extends e-mail to wherever you are. And it
gives you the immediate satisfaction of making calls from anywhere without searching for a
pay phone and your credit card.


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