- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Q: Everywhere I go I see people checking their e-mail on BlackBerrys, Treos and Pocket PCs. Is it difficult or expensive to get that kind of device and service?

A: Although every major wireless company sells hand-held computers, they typically cost a hefty $500 or $600, and setting them up for wireless e-mail can be complex and expensive.

There are, however, a growing number of affordable, simpler options for those with BlackBerry envy. Even an ordinary cell phone can be used to connect with e-mail from a personal Web domain or a mainstream Web service such as Yahoo, AOL and Hotmail.

Most people you see reading messages and thumb-typing responses on a hand-held computer are connecting with a work e-mail account rather than a personal e-mail account, and it can take some high-priced technology to connect those devices with an employer’s computer network.

BlackBerry and other high-end services can cost several thousand dollars to start, plus monthly wireless fees of up to $50 per user. Wireless carriers also offer an Internet-based version of BlackBerry service, but users still must pay $45 or $50 per month for unlimited wireless Internet usage or perhaps $30 for a monthly allotment of data.

As an alternative to these elaborate setups, wireless carriers offer an assortment of affordable mobile e-mail options geared to cell phones, rather than pricey hand-held computers.

These services attempt to mimic the BlackBerry experience — instant access and updates to e-mail, calendar and contact information — though with limited degrees of success. Most can’t display e-mail attachments like a hand-held computer, and not all phones from these providers are compatible with all of their e-mail services.

Among the newest of these offerings is the Yahoo Mail for Mobile service offered by Sprint Corp. Users pay $2.99 a month for the service, with a Sprint wireless Internet connection costing up to $15 a month for unlimited usage. Because Yahoo is a partner, users can choose to avoid the extra fee that Yahoo and other e-mail portals charge to access messages without visiting the Web site.

The Yahoo-Sprint service tries hard to approximate some of the BlackBerry experience, “pushing” messages to the device whenever a new one arrives, and displaying them in a manner similar to a desktop application such as Microsoft Outlook. The service also provides access to one’s Yahoo address book and allows some synchronization between actions on the phone and Yahoo’s server. In contrast, many services “pull” new messages from the Internet at intervals of 15 minutes, and synchronization can be more limited.

Most cellular carriers also provide their own private brand of e-mail service.

Sprint Business Connection Personal Edition is free with the $15 unlimited wireless data plan or $10 a month plus data usage. Cingular Xpress Mail Personal Edition is free with a $20 unlimited data plan or $4.99 a month with lower-priced Internet usage plans.

Both services provide access for up to three e-mail addresses, including two Web-based and one internal work accounts. The Sprint service is compatible with a half-dozen Java-based cell phones and various hand-held computers. Cingular’s works with one Windows-based cell phone in addition to the higher-end devices, but compatibility with more phones is expected by October.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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