Amstrad adds video to revamped E-m@iler

The E3 may appeal to those who don't want a PC or a 3G phone, but the cost of actually using the device may turn users off

Consumer electronics manufacturer Amstrad announced on Wednesday that it is targeting small businesses, home workers and consumers with the launch of a fixed-line videophone.

The E3 Videophone will support two-way video conferencing with another E3. It can also be used to browse the Internet and send and receive picture, email and text messaging.

A pair of E3s will cost £179, compared to £99 for a single unit. Amstrad plans to market the E3 as a simple, cost-effective method of making video calls.

"We can now offer consumers reliable email, voice, Internet, SMS, MMS, photo sending and video call services, all in one affordable and easy to use device," said Simon Sugar, Amstrad's commercial director, in a statement.

The E3 is the latest addition to Amstrad's E-m@iler range. As around 50 percent of the population still don't have a PC, the potential market for E3 is considerable. It may also appeal as an alternative to a 3G phone.

The original E-m@iler was launched in 2000 as a device for people who wanted to email but didn't own a PC, but was initially a flop. Amstrad was still losing money on the E-m@iler in 2003, but recorded a profit this year.

One criticism of the original E-m@iler was that users had to pay 12p every time they retrieved email, on top of paying a call charge.

The E3 may face similar complaints, as parts of its pricing structure compares unfavourably with other connectivity options.

Surfing the Web will cost 5p per minute, a price that harks back to the days before the UK got unmetered Internet access. Sending a text message will cost 50p per minute, and a multimedia message will cost £1. This is much steeper than using a mobile phone, where SMSes typically cost up to 15p and MMSes less than 50p. An email session via E3 will cost 15p, a video call will be 50p "plus call costs", and sending a photo will cost 25p.

This pricing may reflect the fact that Amstrad is selling each E3 at a loss, with the aim of making the money back through these services.

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