Want E-Mail? No Computer? No Problem

While it seems as if PCs, the Internet and email are ubiquitous, there remain a substantial number of Americans who aren't online. My mother-in-law, Lucy, is one of them. She's managed to live 80 plus years without a PC and she's not about to get one now.

That's OK except for one thing. Until very recently, not having a PC made her the only member of the extended family that can't receive or send e-mail. Now, thanks to a new printer called the HP Printing Mailbox, she can receive email though she still can't send it.

The printer was loaned and the service was provided for evaluation purposes.

The printer, which costs $149 plus $9.99 a month for the service, doesn't even have a USB or printer port. Instead it has a phone jack and is designed to connect to a standard phone line. The printer then calls a service to download mail.

HP makes the printer but the service is from a Silicon Valley company called Presto (www.presto.com) which assigned Lucy an email address that friends and family use to contact her. And don't worry, the service is 100 percent spam free because the only people who can send her email are the ones on her approved list.

to hear Larry Magid talk about the HP Printing Mailbox with anchors from KCBS in San Francisco.
All she has to do to retrieve her mail is pick up the printout from the printer's output tray. The service dials in up to five times a day to check for mail. If there is any, it prints it out. It's that simple.

The printer works with standard paper. I use inexpensive copy paper yet the print quality is quite good. Replacing paper is also very easy. Just lift up the lid and slide it in. Replacing the ink cartridge is relatively easy though I could see how that it be a bit challenging for some older people.

If the device is out of paper you don't have to worry about missing messages. They'll remain stored on the server until the paper is replaced. That, however, is not true if the printer runs out of ink, so it's necessary to be sure to replace the cartridge before it runs out.

As her "Presto Account Manager," I have access to a Web site where I can manage the list of people who can send her mail. I also use this site to determine the times of day the device will call for e-mail, the font sizes for text (and even the style of the stationery used for the messages).

People who write to her don't have to worry about formatting or font size. Based on the preferences set on the web site, the printer automatically formats the text at either 12, 14 or 16 points.

In addition to text, you can attach a photograph as a JPG, BMP or GIF file. The service automatically scales the picture to fit on one page so you don't have to worry about overly large photos taking up too many sheets of paper.

In addition to the standard "stationery" for messages, senders can specify special occasion stationary by placing a code in the subject matter. Last week was her birthday, and I had to do was include "[Presto Birthday]" in the subject line for the greeting to be printed on birthday stationery. Other stationery is available for weddings, Halloween, New Year's, and other holiday greetings.

Lucy has had the service for a bit more than a week and loves it, so long as family members remember to send her e-mail.
By Larry Magid
  • Lloyd Vries

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