E-mail combines the speed of the telephone and the ability to communicate large volumes of written information. However, because e-mail is so immediate, people expect a prompt answer, which can be tough if you're on the road.
Until recently, that required a computer, which meant business travelers had to either lug around a laptop or give out their passwords to colleagues back in the office to check e-mail on their behalf, which sacrificed privacy.
Enter text-to-speech technology. With a toll-free phone call, you can now have your e-mail "read" to you by a synthesized voice, or have e-mail faxed anywhere for a fee.
Many companies offer this type of service, but only three provide a nationwide toll-free access number: Mail Call, e-Now and e-Push.
There is one important caveat, however. All three services require what is called a Post Office Protocol, Version 3 (POP3) account, which presents a major problem for users of America Online, CompuServe and ATT.NET, none of which support outside connections to their POP3 servers. E-Push will supply a free e-mail account if you do not already have a POP3-compatible account.
Aside from that, the three services offer the same basic features and are straightforward to use. When you dial the access number, you have several options: hear e-mail subject lines only; hear a specific e-mail; hear all e-mail; have your e-mail faxed to anywhere in the world; or delete a message. You can respond to messages with either a preset or personalized response, such as "Got your message. I'm traveling right now and will reply as soon as possible."
In addition, e-Now and e-Push offer a few handy extras. E-Now has an operator on the other end of the line to help forward or read messages for $1 each. For $2 each, an operator will reply to a message or read up to 10 e-mail summaries (sender, date, subject).
E-Push lets you send a message using a telephone keypad. It's a tedious but viable option if your message is a quick "Thanks, will do." E-Push also has a feature called e-Stat, a real-time e-mail notification that can be sent to your phone, cellular phone or pager to notify you of a new message.
The price of all this wizardry is in line with that of a mobile phone or pager service. Mail Call costs $9.95 a month, with 30 minutes of usage. Each additional minute and each faxed page costs 19 cents. Other pricing plans, with differing features, are offered.
E-Now has a one-time setup fee of $14.95 and costs $11.95 a month, with 20 minutes of monthly usage; each additional minute is 19 cents. Faxes within the United States cost 75 cents; international faxes are $1.50.
E-Push has a one-time setup fee of $50, a monthly fee of $14.95, with 60 minutes free. Extra minutes are 10 cents each.
+ e-Now: http://www. enow.com
(888) 432-7366 or (805) 640-2610
+ e-Push: http://www. e-push.com
(888) 437-8743 (for demonstration only)
+ Mail Call: http://www. mailcall.net