IMs Away From the Computer

According to reliable reports, the single greatest threat to productivity is the American teenager — to be more precise, one addicted to instant messaging, and therefore monopolizing the family computer at all hours of the day.

Parents desperate to reclaim their computers don’t have many appealing options. The most common one may be plunking down several hundred bucks for another computer, then configuring a shared Internet connection and any necessary parental controls. Less ambitious IM options — for instance, BlackBerry handhelds or cell phones with text-messaging capability — require monthly fees.

Motorola has come up with a different, simpler and cheaper option aimed at frustrated parents with text-happy kids. The $100 IMfree Wireless Instant Messenger is a handheld unit that allows a user to chat with as many as six buddies from within 150 feet of the primary computer (Windows 98 Second Edition or newer and a USB port are required). Since it logs on to America Online’s free AIM service, there are no fees after the purchase price.

The blue-and-silver unit took only a few minutes to set up for our DSL connection. (Users with dial-up access have a few more setup steps.) Its monochrome display allows for only nine lines of text — of which only six are available for conversation. This screen was visible indoors and in direct sunlight, but there’s no backlight for use in the dark.

Motorola’s miniature keyboard follows the standard QWERTY layout and is comfortable to type on with thumbs, except that its send key (which replaces “enter”) is difficult to reach.

The range estimates may be low. I walked nearly a city block before getting a warning message and a beep, indicating that the connection was about to vanish. Once back in range, I resumed my conversation without a problem. A rechargeable battery is rated to last for four hours of continuous use.

Putting instant messaging, something normally done with a full-size keyboard and screen, in a pocket-size device involves some sacrifices. The IMfree doesn’t support Microsoft’s or Yahoo’s competing IM services, and its support of AIM doesn’t extend beyond text and a basic set of 12 emoticons — leaving out buddy icons, pictures, Web links and file transfers.

Adding or removing somebody from a buddy list can be done only from the primary computer. (The same goes for adjusting parental controls and a few other options.)

Those, however, are minor quibbles. The IMfree seems likely to be warmly welcomed, given the price and the ability to link as many as seven IMfree units to one PC.

Its most serious limitation may be that it can’t be used beyond sight of the home. Depending on the age of their children involved, that may be an advantage in many parents’ minds.

Older kids will most likely prefer to message their friends anywhere, and they’ll have to look to other wireless widgets. For them, a cell phone that handles text messaging (which these days means pretty much all cell phones) is the logical option. The primary shortfall there is the maddening task of typing text on a phone’s numeric keypad, which can require as many as four keystrokes to produce just one letter.

Keyboard-equipped phones and handhelds such as the BlackBerry, sold by most wireless carriers, are a step up in utility, ease of use and cost (figure $200 and up, plus monthly fees). With their thumb-compatible keyboards usually come e-mail and basic Web access.

Finally, there are WiFi-enabled handheld organizers, costing $400 or more. They can connect to WiFi access points at home and in public “hot spots,” some free, some not. Such a device has much of the capability of a low-end computer.

Then again, its cost will also approach that of a full-size computer. So the decision may come down to this: How much money did the summer job bring in?

Source: Washington Post


This is the one thing you need to do before giving your child a smart phone or tablet

Monitoring your kids' digital habits can be a challenge in today’s high-tech age, but great parental control software like Qustodio gives parents a much-needed advantage Read on to find out how you can protect your child from online…

Sending SMS messages from your PC is easier than you might think

Texting is a fact of life, but what to do when you're in the middle of something on your laptop or just don't have your phone handy? Here's how to send a text message from a computer, whether you prefer to use an email client or Windows 10.
Smart Home

Which Instant Pot is best? Whether cooking for 1 or 9, here are the best options

Instant Pots are perfect home cooks who love versatility in the kitchen, and for those who like to prepare quick and easy meals. Check out our picks for the best Instant Pots.

How to find a lost phone, whether it's Android, iPhone, or any other kind

Need to know how to find a lost phone? We have a simple guide right here that will help you to locate your lost or stolen phone using both native and third-party apps and services, whether it’s a smartphone or an older model.

iPad Air vs. iPad Mini: Which new tablet from Apple is best for you?

Apple has unveiled two new iPad models, including a new iPad Air and a new iPad Mini. Both devices have a lot to offer. But which iPad is right for your needs? We put the iPad Air and iPad Mini to the test to find out.

The best Apple AirPods alternatives for Android, Windows, and iOS devices

Apple AirPods, nice as they are, aren't the only game in town. Other makers are offering their own truly wireless earbuds, and if you're looking to buy a pair of high-end in-ear headphones, we've got the best AirPod alternatives on the…

Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs brings 3D demolition into your living room

Angry Birds is releasing its next entry in the spring of 2019 - with a new spin. Bringing 3D environments and destruction, Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs uses augmented reality to add a new dimension to a classic series.

Even older Apple Watches could be effective at spotting heart conditions

The Apple Watch Series 4 is known for detecting heart conditions like atrial fibrillation thanks to having an electrocardiograph feature. It turns out that older Apple Watches could be effective at tracking AFib, too.

The Black Shark 2’s Ludicrous Mode promises the smoothest mobile gaming

Xiaomi-backed Black Shark has a follow-up to last year's Black Shark gaming phone, complete with high specs and a low price. Here's everything we know about the Black Shark 2 gaming phone.

Need a new tablet? Here are the best iPad deals for March 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for March 2018.

Amazon drops price on Apple Watch Series 4 with a rare deal

Since Apple first unveiled the Series 4, the price for one has pretty much held fast. This has finally started to change with a nice little $15 discount on Amazon. If you've been wanting the newest Apple Watch, now is a great time.

Google's midrange Pixels might be called the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a midrange line. Say hello to the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.

Whether by the pool or the sea, make a splash with the best waterproof phones

Whether you're looking for a phone you can use in the bath, or you just want that extra peace of mind, waterproof phones are here and they're amazing. Check out our selection of the best ones you can buy.

Blackout to go? Call of Duty: Mobile is coming this summer

Activision and Tencent have partnered to create Call of Duty: Mobile, a free-to-play version of the popular shooter franchise that will be available on iOS and Android devices this summer.