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Amstrad brings email to the masses

Telephone lets buyers send emails without a PC

Amstrad Wednesday launched a device it believes will revolutionise how the UK's masses use email.

The product, called the e-m@iler Phone, is a standalone desktop model with a built-in email facility, allowing you to send and receive email without a PC. It also has CLI (caller line identification) and a full qwerty keyboard. The e-m@iler will cost £79.99 and is available in Dixon stores now.

As well as its email functionality, the e-m@iler has a built in digital answerphone and a detatchable PDA that lives within the phone's casing, but can be removed for roaming.

The launch was accompanied by much hullabaloo. Sir Alan Sugar, Amstrad's irrepressible director, said: "In true Amstrad tradition, the e-m@iler brings email to the mass market for the first time in an easy-to-use format at a very affordable price."

That affordable price however comes at some cost: while the phone is not in use, adverts will be displayed on the e-m@iler's screen. Users will also be charged 12p every time they retrieve email from the machine.

The e-m@iler was designed in conjunction with BT, whose logo appears on the front of the device, "But we can't say we're partners," said Sugar. "The lawyers said Oftel wouldn't allow it." BT also collects the 12p plus time charges call revenue and splits it with Amstrad, and also operates a special signalling system that alerts the user when email is waiting to be collected.

One analyst who requested anonymity, asked whether Sugar really thought people would be interested in buying a machine that charges 12p a shot for email, said: "This is 2000. I think he may have missed the boat."

Sugar insisted the e-m@iler is what the UK has been waiting for. He said: "Only one family in five has access to e-mail at home in Britain today. The Amstrad e-m@iler will, I believe, increase this penetration closer to US levels due to its price and performance. I plan to see 1 million e-m@ilers installed in British homes within the next two years."

The e-m@iler has a built-in micro-browser from STNC, which has been disabled to stop people accessing email via portals such as Hotmail. Amstrad would not admit this, but did concede that if people used the machine to access such services, it would affect its email revenue stream.

Brian Eaton, director of business at Amstrad, argued the browser did what it was supposed to do. "There is a development path for it [the browser] that will allow us to enable customers with a wider choice of services and access in the coming months and years," he said.

Shares in Amstrad have soared as high as 607.5p, rising from 85.5p in September when UK-iNvest tipped the company. But the market seemed disappointed with the new e-m@iler as shares fell 65.5p to 542p.

Would you pay 12 pence per email? Can you see any use for this 'Joyce' phone? Go to the TalkBack forums and have your say.

Will you buy one? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.