EMAIL AND INTERNET OPTIONS

Many people have asked me about various methods of accessing e-mail or internet.   Here is a brief discussion of the pros and cons of each alternative.

POCKETMAIL
Sharp's pocketmail is available for around $80.   Monthly service costs approx $10/month, with unlimited calls to an 800 number to access your e-mail.   Pocketmail does not require a phone jack.   Instead, it uses an acoustic coupler to work with most telephone handsets - except certain older Automatic Electric pay telephones.   Although the acoustic coupler results in slow e-mail transmission, the fact that it will work on most phones with just a handset is one of its biggest advantages.   However, you are limited to receiving about 4000 bytes of e-mail messages, which is likely to be only several e-mail messages.   You also are not able to send or receive any attachments, such as pictures.   Due to the severe restriction on messages, you would not want to share your e-mail address with but a few friends or relatives.

WEB TV
WebTV is available in several flavors, starting as low as $100.   With this service, you can browse the web and also have e-mail.   Its capability for browsing the web is quite limited as it will not be able to display some of the information from the more glitzy web sites.   WebTV uses your TV set for the display, which is severely limited compared to a computer monitor.   Service costs around $20/month.   The biggest problem with WebTV is that you must have telephone service at your campsite to be able to access e-mail and the web.   You certainly cannot carry the WebTV box and your TV set into the campground office to borrow their phone!

INTERNET APPLIANCE
There are various devices coming available that allow for relative simple access for e-mail and also possibly limited web surfing.   Most of these are priced from $100 - $300, and require subscribing to their proprietary service for around $20/month.   Most of these are portable enough to be carried into a campground office for telephone access.   Most also have limitations such as viewing pictures or other e-mail attachments.

COMPUTER
I highly recommend to anyone that they purchase a laptop computer.   In addition to e-mail and internet access, you will be able to do so many additional things that none of the above can do.   You can send and receive attachments and pictures with your e-mail, you can get an inexpensive GPS so that you will never be lost again.   You can make newsletters, track expenses, keep an inventory - the possibilities are endless.

The good news is that you don't have to get the latest, new computer.   Many good used laptops are available for less than $500.   PLUS, if you sign up with one of the free web and/or e-mail services, you will save $240 every year compared to WebTV or an Internet Appliance, and $120/year compared to Pocketmail.   If you are in the market for a good used laptop, shop the major stores, such as Computer Renaissance as they have many stores nationwide should you have a problem.

If you have the finances to purchase a new laptop, be sure to get one with an active-matrix display (also known as TFT).   A minimum of 64k of RAM is highly recommended.   Also, choose the one with the largest hard drive for the price.   You can find excellent "open box" specials at the major retail stores.   If you don't see any "open box" specials - ASK! Again, only purchase from a nationwide chain - if you have any problems, you can take it back to any of their stores.