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Published: Saturday, 3/12/2005

Smartphones push e-mail everywhere

E-mail is so important for business and personal communications that people feel stressed about being away from a computer.

Bosses often expect employees to respond immediately to e-mailed requests. Small businesses can loose customers by not returning e-mails promptly. E-mail may bring first word of career, financial, family, and other situations that need quick action.

There s no need to stay glued to a desktop or notebook computer to stay in touch.

Instead, consider using wireless e-mail, available with a new generation of smartphones and handheld devices that combine features of a cell phone and a computer. They provide e-mail access wherever you can get a mobile phone signal.

With new features, and more reasonably priced access plans, they make e-mail-on-the-go a more realistic option for more people.

Consumer choices in the wireless e-mail field have broadened since Research in Motion (RIM) introduced its trail-blazing BlackBerry handheld device in 1998. The BlackBerry quickly became a must-have item for business people who travel frequently. It offered always-on wireless e-mail via a small keyboard with the standard QWERTY key layout. Just cradle the BlackBerry in your hands, eyeball the screen, and thumb-type.

RIM added voice capability in 2002, so the BlackBerry could replace a mobile phone. Models available today can do e-mail, access web pages, and have features of a personal digital assistant (PDA). They store and display contact information, to-do lists, appointment calendars, and other information.

Like other wireless e-mail devices, BlackBerries need wireless data and voice service, which is available through cell phone companies. The cost of data service has dropped, with some companies offering unlimited e-mail for under $30 a month.

Consumers can choose from a wide assortment of brands and models of smartphones. Some are really mobile communicators and features of a telephone and computer. In addition to telephone calls, they can e-mail, instant message, access the Internet, run some programs, store and play stereo-quality digital music, and include a built-in digital camera.

Devices like the Dell Axim X50v, PalmOne Tungsten T5, and Hewlett-Packard s iPAQs take another step closer to a pocket-size computer. They offer larger, more readable displays; more built-in memory plus a slot for removable SD memory cards (great for digital music and images); and office programs that work more like those on a desktop computer.

Not all of these devices, however, can access e-mail like a smart phone. The Dell requires a nearby Wi-Fi network, for instance, and the Palm needs a cell phone with Bluetooth technology.

Do a little reading to pick the mobile device best for your own needs. Browse product reviews at www.cnet.com, www.pcmagazine.com, www.zdnet.com, and www.pcworld.com. Check your cell phone company s web site for phones, deals, and other information.

One more thing: Ads often stress the set-yourself-free-with-wireless-e-mail side of these devices. However, it also carries a risk of chaining you to a job on a 24/7 basis.

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