Sharp TM-20 can retrieve e-mail without all the wireless hassles

Sharp TM-20 can retrieve e-mail without all the wireless hassles

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

The Sharp TM-20 e-mail device keeps you connected via standard telephone lines while you travel. The 6- by 3-inch unit receives and sends e-mail without a phone cable, getting around the current wireless pitfalls of low bandwidth and poor signal quality.

So on the one hand you can be confident that the device will work over wireline phones, but on the other hand you have to pay whatever phone fees are required. Even if you dial a toll-free number, you still might have to pay connect fees at hotels and on increasing numbers of pay phones.

A Sharp technician must program the TM-20 in advance with all your e-mail account information. You can either have the TM-20 connect to an account with Sharp or set it up to check your other e-mail accounts.

On the road, you dial the access number and hold the device near the phone. An adjustable speaker and a flip-down coupler are on the back of the device, which you must hold in just the right position. When you find the magic spot, the TM-20 downloads any new messages.

The Sharp
TM-20 e-mail device weighs little but is fairly bulky to carry.

Depending on the quantity, downloading takes up to a minute.


Once you have downloaded mail, you open the device, which resembles a pocket organizer complete with keyboard and monochrome LCD screen. It's a lot more compact and handy than several other e-mail devices I have tried, though a bit large for travel. It's lightweight, however, at 8.5 ounces.

A handy memory gauge reveals how full the device's memory is, so you know when to start deleting mail to make room for more.'In my tests, the device stored 100 fairly lengthy text messages in its 512K of memory and still had about 25 percent of capacity free. That much memory is probably adequate as the TM-20 is not going to be a primary e-mail source.

Sending mail is fairly intuitive'just hit the Compose button and type. The message goes into an outbox to be sent at your next connection.

Box Score

Pocket e-mail device

Sharp Electronics Corp.; Mahwah,

N.J.; tel.

Price: $99

+ Works from almost any phone

- Must have a free phone jack

- Does not deliver mail attachments

- Late entry in e-mail device market

Mail in the outbox counts toward the maximum number of messages that can fit into memory.

Attachments do not come through, but you can tell when a message originally had an attachment.

Contingency plan

Be sure to set up your mail accounts to leave all messages you receive on the server, so you can retrieve those with attachments again when you get back to the office.

The small keyboard is surprisingly easy to use. You can even cut and paste text snippets as in standard desktop e-mail applications.

The TM-20 runs on two standard AA batteries for a long time. I used it for a week to check mail, leaving it on for long periods, and the batteries never gave out.

This device is a good choice for workers who are in the field a lot. Find a pay phone and you can have your e-mail in a snap.

Other travelers will do better with smaller palm-sized devices or full notebook PCs with modems.

The TM-20's only advantage over these alternatives is that it works from any phone. Reading e-mail and attachments on a notebook in an air-conditioned hotel room is more satisfactory, even though you must carry a phone cord.

The TM-20 could be invaluable on a long layover somewhere, but it will always be a secondary or tertiary e-mail device.


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