REPOST: PocketMail OR - Rick
- REPOST: PocketMail OR - Rick
Thanks for your thoughtful edit. All edits taken on board. I added
considerable additional information at your request. Because of the additional
typing, I would appreciate your eye on all those words to make sure I did not
introduce a new gramatical bug.
The new and improved version can be viewed in its glory in tests/owner reviews
Owner Review by Rick Allnutt
"It is easy to type with the Composer in my lap
at the end of a long day of hiking"
PERSONAL BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
51 Year old male
6' 0'' (183 cm) in height
190 lbs (86 kg) in weight
Email address: rick (at) BackpackGearTest (dot) org
I live in Dayton, Ohio
Over the last several years, I have become an ultralight camper with a
three-season base pack weight of about 11 lb (5 kg) and skin out weight of 20
lb (9 kg). I have completed many section hikes on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in
all four seasons, with a total mileage of nearly 450 miles (725 km). I am a
gearhead, a hammock camper, and make much of my own equipment.
Year Manufactured: 2004
Manufacturer's Link: http://www.pocketmail.com/us/
MSRP: $99 US (Composer device)
$9.95 to $16.95 US per month of service
Listed Weight: 8.2 oz (232 g)
Measured Weight: 8.3 oz (235 g) including 2 AA batteries
Size: 6.4" x 3.2" x 0.9" (16.3cm x 8.1cm x 2.3cm)
Memory: 1 megabyte on device, 12 megabytes on service
Review Date: 1 July 2004
I have used the PocketMail Composer on a two week section hike on the AT. In
addition I have used it nearly every day for writing about an hour at lunch
time for 3 months. It continues to function well and has given me no problems
at all. It has required changing the batteries twice. A fresh set of batteries
lasts nearly a month with daily use, when the backlight is not used.
Temperatures have ranged from below freezing to about 90 F (32 C).
I love to tell stories, setting the introduction, supplying the details and
bringing the story to a memorable conclusion. I also love to write a daily
journal and then mine that journal for story ideas and insights.
I enjoy the relaxed nature of mail, keeping up with pen pals, family, and
friends all over. Going on a long hike has always meant giving up much of that
communication, going cold turkey. This has especially been true since I have
gotten used to worldwide communication through email.
I also like to write when I am hiking. I have put many words on paper while in
the out-of-doors, but it always seems like a boring chore to transpose that
writing to a computer so it can be shared. I was therefore very interested when
I discovered a group of Appalachian Trail journals written while the journalist
was on the trail. Often, that hiker referred to using a device called
PocketMail. Being an electronic device junkie, I knew I had to have one and see
if all the good news about it was true.
PocketMail is a portable e-mail system. The personal hardware of the system is
the small and light PocketMail Composer device. With a small black and
gray/green text display and a miniature keyboard, I am able to sit in a shelter
or sit on a rock and touch type with the Composer on my knees. In the photo at
the top of the page, I am working on this review.
The system also includes a proprietary email service provider. A service package
must be purchased to use this part of the system. The service costs about the
same amount per year as the purchase price of the Composer hardware. With the
service comes a single email address.
The connection between the device and the email server is through an acoustic
telephone modem. A ?what? you say?
History Lesson: In the early days of personal computers, acoustic modems were
common. An acoustic modem was usually a box next to the computer with a
"cradle" into which a phone hand set was stuffed, and which made communication
through the microphone and speaker of the handset.
The PocketMail device has a little fold-out acoustic modem which works much like
those acoustic modems of old. This is both good and bad.
The downside of the acoustic modem connection is that communication speed is
slow. It is somewhat improved with a modern digital signal processing (DSP)
algorithm, but it is still not fast. It takes a minute to transmit each of my
roughly page long compositions. (Printed page of about 500 words or 3500
characters.) Receive speed is the same.
The other restriction brought by the slow speed is that email is restricted to
text only. No pictures, no attachments, no graphics, no fonts.
However, the good side of this use of an acoustic modem is that almost any phone
can be used as a link to send and receive email. For the United States and
other countries with a toll free 1-800 system, the call is to a 1-800 number.
For most European countries, an in country number is set up for the system. For
the globetrotting hiker, there is no additional charge for using any of these
in country systems, and they are all interconnected. The service allows an
unlimited number of emails, both sent and received at no additional cost.
But the really good news is that any pay phone, hotel phone, grocery store
phone, or residential phone near the AT can be used to send and receive email.
Some cell telephones work with the PocketMail system. My cell phone does not
work well with it, and I do not try to make connections through the cell phone.
It works like this:
-call 1-800 number
-put phone handset up to the back of the PocketMail device
-press button on front of PocketMail box
-Wait a half minute to several minutes until a three tone signal is made by the
I find the system is really useful on the trail and off. I am writing this
report right now on the device, enjoying the summer sun in a park during a
lunch break. I am also able to use the device in the library, at my kid's
soccer games, and at meetings. I have small to medium sized hands (US size 7
1/2) and I have no difficulty touch typing just like with a computer keyboard.
The keys are closer together, but an hour of typing is enough to get used to
the small size of the keyboard. I also can type with both thumbs when I am
standing or lying down and have nothing to rest the keyboard on.
The system shines best in the setting of long distance hiking, especially on the
AT, with its road crossings and re-supply points every few days. While out on a
recent two week section hike on the AT, I spent time every evening writing
daily journals, gear reports, and essays to describe and record my experience.
I was able to upload my writing and receive email from my family every 2-4 days
during the hike. This contact kept me feeling better about my family contact
and was a great release for recording the thinking I was engaged in on the long
Screen: The black on grey/green screen has 40 characters by 8 lines. There is no
provision for user graphics, though the system uses a small number of graphic
icons on the Main Menu. The screen is easy to read in all daytime lighting
conditions without any distraction from glare or wash-out. The backlight is
quite functional, but I have used it very little. Trail reports of very fast
battery consumption using the backlight urged me to use am LED headlamp instead
of the internal backlight. PocketMail is easy to read with the headlamp. I have
not needed to make any adjustment in brightness or contrast since opening the
box. This is the beauty of a pure black on "white" character set.
Batteries: In more than 3 months of daily use, I have replaced the two AA
batteries once. There was no loss of information when I did so. The battery
compartment also serves as the hinge to open the device, and it has proved to
be quite robust. The battery compartment has a locking switch which keeps the
case closed. In all my travels, I have never had the compartment open
Water and Electrons: There is no implied warranty about any water protection. I
have used the device several times in dense fog (with condensing moisture on
the keyboard) without failure. I have given this device the same sorts of
protection from rain that I normally give to other electronics. I have a very
water resistant sanctuary in my pack for electronic devices: Inside the pack
cover, inside a pack made of waterproof material, inside the waterproof foam
sleeping pad, inside my rolled-up Pocket Bucket. With this multiple layer
protection system, the device has never been doused with water, even in hours
long rain. I do not use the device in rain and have not spilled any water on
Message integrity: The DSP works very well! In these several months of use, I
have never received a message with garbled characters and have not seen any
garbled characters sent from the device. On occasion, I have seen that several
punctuation marks are incorrectly coded to the appropriate character by some
email systems by other users. My emails have not suffered this problem, but I
have seen email from at least one other PocketMail user with this problem.
This seems to especially be true with the " and ' characters.
Physical Box: The integrity of the device is quite sturdy. I built a small pouch
for it after a few cosmetic scratches appeared after I had carried the
PocketMail Composer in the outside pocket of my pack and it had rubbed against
a camera and tent stakes. Similar pouches are available from suppliers,
including the PocketMail people. Mechanically, operation of the Composer is
intuitive. <On> turns it on, almost instantaneously (no boot up delay). There
are no motors, beeps, clicks, or other noises. It is completely silent.
Keyboard: The keyboard is composed of surface mounted click buttons instead of
keys. This takes some getting used to. In general, the Composer works just
like any other keyboard device with one exception. Each time a button such as
the shift or <cntl> keys are pressed they change state. I do have trouble when
I press the shift key to begin a sentence, and then automatically press <shift>
<I> to begin that sentence. The system takes the first shift as a command to
make the next letter a capital, and then gets a reversal to that command just
before I press the <I> key. "i" ends up being typed. Several commonly used
punctuation marks can only be typed with the <cntl> key. They include: /, \,
", and '. The comma, period and dash can all be typed with a single key. All
numbers are available with a single key click as are all letters. Capital
letters require <shift> but a string of capital letters can be typed with
<shift> continuously pressed. The punctuation marks above the numbers are
standard and can be accessed with either <shift> or <cntl>.
Memory: The device is reported to have 1 megabyte of on-board memory. With
10-15 received, sent, and ready to send emails on the device, I have never
exceeded 3 percent of the memory. Text messages just do not occupy much space
for me while backpacking. I do not have large numbers of emails delivered to me
while on the trail and this constraint of the system is well beyond anything I
will ever need. The practical constraint is the time it would take to download
a hundred messages from a list server. Since I do not anticipate spending 20
minutes with the Composer up to the phone, I will never get to the point that
my memory ever gets near to being full. The server side email holds 12
megabytes of mail - text only. For me, that equates to more than a year's
worth of personal email, with none of it deleted.
Connection: Other than the obvious connection with the service through the
Composer, the email on the service provider's server can also be accessed from
any Internet connection. The email can be accessed through a user password.
The provided Internet features include "message filtering, customizeable
auto-signature, maximum message length of up to 60K, attachment handling,
folders, and group address handling." Automatic address consolidation can
retrieve email from other services and relay them to the PocketMail device.
Attachments that are not text based are saved on the server and can be accessed
from an Internet connection. The normal maximum length of an email message is
limited to 6K characters (approximately two typed pages of text on paper) but
longer messages can be divided up automatically by the server into a series of
messages for a total capacity of 60K (or 12 pages of text). I have not
discovered a way to access my PocketMail account via a POP3 account, though the
product's internet site implies this can be done.
I respect the chronic risk of an email address being "spammed" - receiving
multiple unwanted messages a day. To protect my @... address, I use
a forwarding email address outside the PocketMail system. I have set my
device to show this email address as the "from" line. To the outside reader of
my email, they respond to that address, not the actual PocketMail address. If
the forwarding email ever gets "spammed" I will simply choose another
forwarding email address and abandon the first.
While the Composer has the ability to link directly with a computer, that
feature has little backpacking use for me. I have never needed or wanted to do
so in the first three months of using PocketMail. A review of that feature will
need to wait for someone who finds a use for it.
What I really like about PocketMail
- long battery life
- easy to transfer electronic writing to the Internet or email pen pals
What I don't like:
- expensive service for a single email account
Excellent job. A couple of very minor things to fix and then you can
upload it to BGT at this url:
<<<<<Use either link>>>>>
When uploading your Owner Review, please ensure you select the button
marked Owner Review.
Thanks again for the very good work.
--- In BackpackGearTest@yahoogroups.com, rick@b... wrote:
> The connection between the device and the email server is through an
> telephone modem. A ?what? you say?
### You'll want to fix the "what" above. It displays with the ? marks
in your test folder version too.
> battery consumption using the backlight urged me to use am LED
### "an LED"
Thanks for your look through the revised text. Those typos that end up
being words are particularly difficult for me to find, especially when
the number of letters in both words is the same. I am glad you found
>The question marks and color are there on purpose as an informal
> > The connection between the device and the email server is through an
> > telephone modem. A ?what? you say?
> ### You'll want to fix the "what" above. It displays with the ? marks
> in your test folder version too.
stylistic device to give emphasis. If for some reason this style is
forbidden I will remove it. Uploading now.
- Rick Allnutt wrote:
> Second go round....I wrote:
> >you wrote
> > > The connection between the device and the email server is through an
> > acoustic
> > > telephone modem. A ?what? you say?
> > ### You'll want to fix the "what" above. It displays with the ? marksI wrote
> > in your test folder version too.
> The question marks and color are there on purpose as an informalAnd then I thought about it again...
> stylistic device to give emphasis. If for some reason this style is
> forbidden I will remove it. Uploading now.
Changed my mind. If it irritated you, it may irritate others. Like any
good editor, you simply pointed out what was wrong. Like many writers, I
was hung up on ego. I decided that your point of view is more like that
of the readers I hope the review helps. So I changed my mind and have
now taken both your edits on board without quibble. I kept the color
and changed it to italics. That accomplishes my purpose without
inventing new devices.
- --- In BackpackGearTest@yahoogroups.com, Rick Allnutt <rick@b...> wrote:
> > The question marks and color are there on purpose as an informalwriters, I
> > stylistic device to give emphasis. If for some reason this style is
> > forbidden I will remove it. Uploading now.
> And then I thought about it again...
> Changed my mind. If it irritated you, it may irritate others. Like any
> good editor, you simply pointed out what was wrong. Like many
> was hung up on ego. I decided that your point of view is more like thatSorry about the confusion. I got the color OK. I just thought the ?
> of the readers I hope the review helps. So I changed my mind and have
> now taken both your edits on board without quibble. I kept the color
> and changed it to italics. That accomplishes my purpose without
> inventing new devices.
marks were a Yahooism that escaped into your HTML. Didn't ever occur
to me that you meant them to be there. Style is all yours so you can
certainly put them back.