Computer owners sometimes forget that not everyone owns computers and not everyone uses e-mail. Indeed, many of our relatives do not want the expense and complexity of purchasing a computer, setting up an Internet account with e-mail, and then checking for e-mail frequently. Many people do not possess the skills or interest to own and use a computer.
It would be nice if everyone had an e-mail address. Wouldn't you like to include Grandma on the list of people you send messages to frequently? How about pictures of the family's vacation or the new grandchild? Sure, you can print things out, stuff them into an envelope and mail them to Grandma, but I suspect that many people never do that. Thanks to Hewlett-Packard and an online service called Presto, anyone with a telephone line can now have a receive-only e-mail account. No computer or expertise is required. The only thing needed is a special printer made for this purpose. In fact, the e-mail recipient doesn't even need to take any action, other than making sure that paper is in the printer. (It uses standard computer paper.) E-mails arrive automatically and print without any user interaction.
For example, you might wish to set up a receive-only e-mail account for an elderly relative. You purchase the HP Printing Mailbox with Presto Service, travel to your relative's house, and make two connections: plug the power cord into an available wall outlet, and plug the printer's telephone connection into any available phone line in that person's home. A separate phone line is not required as the printer can share an available phone connection with any standard telephone.
You then call the Presto Service on the regular telephone and ask them to set up the service. In less than five minutes, your relative is ready to receive email messages. If you prefer, you can go online from your own computer when you return home and set up everything yourself. Either way, your elderly relative does not need any computer expertise and, in fact, even your expertise is optional.
Presto will assign an e-mail address to the new mailbox printer, and you will want to give that address out to friends and relatives who wish to send messages. The Presto Service only delivers messages from family and friends you have selected, so there are no ads, no spam, and no junk mail. A friend or relative with computer expertise and who also knows the required password can update the list of accepted senders or your relative can call Presto and ask them to update the list.
The printer includes a built-in modem that will dial out at whatever schedule you specify and check for new e-mail. If new e-mail is found, the printer will quietly print the messages and any attached images immediately. This is a color printer, so it is a great way of sharing family snapshots. Your relative does not take any action; new messages appear automatically, almost in the same manner as a FAX machine.
I can envision setting this device up to dial out and check for e-mail at 5 AM every day. This way, your relative could have e-mail messages ready to read when he or she arises for the day. However, you can also specify to check e-mail several times a day, all at times that you specify.
Anyone can send messages to the relative, using any standard e-mail software. There is no charge to senders.
When the account is set up, you can select from any number of print-out styles. The arriving e-mails can be printed with colorful borders, larger fonts (good for anyone with less than perfect eyesight) and more. There is no need to print out boring black-and-white messages.
You can also optionally sign up for articles, recipes, and puzzles from several of Presto's business partners, including Better Homes and Gardens and the Wall Street Journal-all at no extra charge. Those articles also arrive on the printer automatically.
The print mechanism is based on Hewlett-Packard's normal inkjet printer technology so printed color images look like those produced on any other standard inkjet printer. The printed images will not compete with the glossy photos made at the local drugstore. Still, they should be great for posting on a bulletin board.
The printing mailbox is a one-way service: your relative can receive e-mail messages and attached photos but cannot send anything. For someone with little computer expertise, this is probably a good idea. I would expect that the spirit and happiness of an elderly relative would be lifted significantly when family and friends' communications are increased. The Presto service is available only in North America.
The Hewlett-Packard printing mailbox printer has a list price of $149.99 but is available from several discount stores for about $99.99. My online bookstore, RootsBooks.com, has it available at http://rootsbooks.com/shop.php?k=B000JERC8A&c=blended at that discounted price as well. The Presto service also is not cheap at $9.99 a month, roughly the same price as a full service dial-up Internet provider. You can save a bit of money by paying for a year's service in advance for $99.99.
The Hewlett-Packard Printing Mailbox and the Presto Service are not for everyone. However, it might be the perfect solution for the non-computer-literate relative that you would like to include in e-mail messages sent by family and friends. Indeed, it is a great way of sending family snapshots.
For more information, look at http://www.presto.com. You can also view an online demo on the same site.