Sugar lumps more features into e-m@iler

The latest e-m@iler phone adds Web browsing, a games console and a credit-card reader to the emailing features of the original

Following sales of over 100,000 of its original e-m@iler phone, Amstrad has launched the e-m@iler plus. Like the original, this is an answerphone with text email and hands-free features; it now includes Web browsing, a reader for credit and debit cards with embedded chips, and Sinclair ZX Spectrum games compatibility. The new unit retains the 480 x 320 monochrome backlit LCD screen, and adds a USB port for printers.

The e-m@iler plus costs £99, £20 more than its predecessor. Amstrad says that this reflects a much-reduced subsidy -- Amstrad discounted the original model by £50 -- and that by June it expects to have costs down to the point that no subsidy at all is required. However, the company is spending between £2m and £8m on TV and other advertising this year, and expects to sell 250,000 units as a result. All major UK high street electrical retailers are carrying the product.

As before, the company plans to make money by charging for online services -- users can only connect via the Amserve system -- and downloading interactive adverts onto the screen. Call costs are typically 12p per call plus time charges, but downloading a Spectrum game costs up to 50p, depending on the length of time the users wants it to reside in the phone's memory.

Amstrad says that the e-m@iler plus is intended to be both a billboard and a retail till in the home, especially after the introduction of smart-chip credit cards in the UK. Experience with the existing customer base shows better response rates for advertising than with mail shots, says the company, but that as the average user only clocks up £8 per month in extra phone bills the e-m@iler series remains the cheapest way to access the Internet.

The new Web-browsing feature uses Microsoft Mobile Explorer, which currently lacks Java, Javascript and style sheets. Although Microsoft has ceased developing this product, Amstrad has obtained the source code and indicates that it will add more features. As it is, the phone does WAP -- an Amstrad developer pointed out that with the 56kbps modem, large screen and extensive keyboard, the e-m@iler plus makes many WAP sites work extremely well. It will also send text messages to mobile phones.


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