The Gift of Access

by Yvonne Seng for Digital Living Today

A whole slew of new Net appliances makes it easier than ever to log on those late adopters of the Web (that means you, grandma) with minimum expense or hassle. Just think, once mom is finally online you’ll receive complaining messages that read: “Why don’t you email me, anymore?” Here are some of Digital Living Today’s recommendations for email and Internet appliances that would make terrific and unique gifts this holiday season.

The Cidco MailStation (www.mymailstation.com) offers email and limited Net access without the commitment of purchasing a computer. This handsome and affordable little device ($100 for the MailStation and another $100 per year for access) could easily transport the pencil-and-quill generation into the 21st century. At less than 2 lbs and about the height and width of a standard piece of paper, the MailStation moves easily from the desk to a poolside chair. I gave one to a relative in the hospital recently and it’s now, next to her pacemaker and poodle, her favorite lifestyle accessory.

The MailStation is easy to use: Plug it into a phone jack, type out your messages, and press a single button to log on and deliver (or receive) email. It stores up to 1,000 contacts and approximately 400 pages of email, and operates on three AA batteries with back-up flash memory. Personalized news, sports and weather feeds from Yahoo are bonus features. It has just enough practical bells and whistles-spellchecker, two interchangeable fonts, basic calculator, and event calendar-not to overwhelm the novice and enough extras for the pros (see MailStation’s FAQ for more information).

Digital picture frames are a great way to connect visually with friends and family. Ceiva (www.ceiva.com for demo, $284.99 at www.amazon.com) started the trend with their ingenious 5 x 7 inch digital image receiver. Take pictures of Joey’s birthday today, and then upload to your computer so the grandparents can enjoy the desktop picture frame the next morning. The beauty is that they don’t need a computer to receive the images in the clear, high-quality LCD frame-just a phone line, a power outlet and a subscription to the Ceiva Network. The frame lets them pause a single image, free float through an automatic slide show, or flip album-style at their own pace.

Kodak’s Smart Picture Frame ($350 at www.amazon.com) allows you to share a slide show of up to 36 pictures with your friends and family via your computer, their StoryBox Network, and a phone line on the receiving end. It also accepts CompactFlash cards for displaying pictures from your digital camera and the folks can order prints directly from the frames. The SmartPicture also connects Smart Frame owners to personalized news and entertainment information.

Sony’s CyberFrame ($895 at www.cybermall.com) displays still images and MPEG movies stored on Memory Stick media, Sony’s plug-in memory technology. Like the Ceiva, it has slide-show functions, as well as a built-in speaker with volume control that lets you send the little princess’s first words along with pictures of her first steps.

Dust off those boxes of yellowing photographs and pull those digital prints you have filed on disk-it’s time to share your memories with family and friends. Update the images regularly, send frequent email messages and see how quickly your elders join the ranks of the digital revolution.

***DLT Tip: A lot of people don’t realize that you can use an Internet picture frame such as the Ceiva as a one-way messaging system. Because these devices display JPEG (.jpg) images, you can write messages in a graphics program (like Photoshop), save them as .jpg’s and send them to the picture frame. Along with the lovely pictures of daughter Judy at college, you can also read her “Please send money” and “My credit card is to the max” messages.

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