Frill-Free Gadgets

The Printing Mailbox works only with the Presto e-mail service, which costs $9.95 a month.
The Printing Mailbox works only with the Presto e-mail service, which costs $9.95 a month. (By Steven Senne -- Associated Press)
By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, July 26, 2007

In a market that says more features are always better, a cellphone devoid of data features and a printer that only receives e-mail should be guaranteed losers.

But Samsung's Jitterbug phone and Hewlett-Packard's Printing Mailbox aren't aimed at the more-is-better crowd. They're marketed at an often overlooked segment of the population that's not so keen on learning how to use yet another gadget.

Those people tend to be older -- a fact that leads many tech firms to write off this entire demographic. That's a mistake. They have valid complaints about confusing devices and programs designed to out-feature the competition.

The Jitterbug and the Printing Mailbox represent a 180-degree turn from that mind-set. They dispense with most of the usual ingredients to make wireless calling and e-mail as accessible as possible to baby boomers and their parents (a market that Jitterbug estimates at 100 million people).

The $147 Jitterbug is the easier of the two to understand, as the white, elliptical device could be the cellphone of 1996. It only makes calls; it doesn't do text or picture messaging, browse the Web or take photos.

Its numeric buttons are big enough to mash while wearing gloves. You can also fill its 10-entry address book when ordering the phone ( or by calling customer service. You can call contacts by speaking their names or by flipping through an onscreen list with two up and down buttons and large YES and NO keys.

(A second, even simpler Jitterbug swaps out the keypad for three buttons: one for the operator, one for 911 and the third for the number of your choice.)

Phone service comes from GreatCall, a reseller of other carrier's signals. Plans start at $10 a month (including no minutes) and go no higher than $80 (for 800 minutes and free operator-assisted calls).

Where Jitterbug provides on-the-go calling to people who hate cellphones, the Presto service and HP's $100 A10 Printing Mailbox combine to get e-mail to people who have no interest in computers.

The HP Mailbox looks much like a conventional inkjet printer, except it plugs into a phone jack instead of a computer. Its setup is meant to be done by somebody else -- whoever e-mails the recipient most often.

Outsourcing the hard work of technology can be pure laziness, but it makes sense here. A person who has never used e-mail before is not about to buy a strange printing gizmo. The friend or family member who performs that intervention might as well set up the device, too.

There's not much to do, in any case. You choose a name for the user's Presto account, then add people to his or her address book -- including phone numbers, which print out on top of each e-mail. The Printing Mailbox is a one-way street, only receiving mail; the user can reply only with such last-century communications options as picking up the phone or writing a letter.

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