Motorola Talkabout 900
By Joachim Bamrud, Mon May 14 00:00:00 GMT 2001

This is a great solution for wireless e-mail. It?s far more user-friendly than typical phones when it comes to writing text. Combine that with its small size and low price, and you?ve got a very attractive device.


While SMS-type text messaging through mobile phones is barely getting started in the United States, two-way messaging devices have become hugely successful, especially among business professionals.

But the devices catering to that target audience – including the popular BlackBerry – come with a price tag that typically excludes younger audiences, the segment that has boosted the popularity of SMS in Europe.

Selling for as little as $99 through some vendors, the Motorola Talkabout T900 Personal Interactive Communicator is aiming to conquer that niche. This is the MTV-generation’s BlackBerry.

But, I found the device to be appealing to more than just teenagers. First, let’s start with the size. The T900 measures a mere 3.9 x 2.15 x .90 inches, weighing only 3.86 ounces. You’ll hardly notice it if you put in your pants’ pockets or in the accompanying holster.

While it comes with fancy colors for the youth audience (Razberry Ice, Mystic Blue and Aqua Ice), it also comes in the more conservative Black Opaque.

But most importantly: It’s a terrific alternative to wireless phones if you need to send and receive e-mails on the go. While web-enabled phones can log you to e-mails, the T900 comes with a QWERTY keyboard that features 26 buttons for letters and numbers, instead of your standard 10 on wireless phones.

That means you can quickly find and type each letter of the alphabet without going through the cumbersome process offered by phone keypads.

Another great feature is the wide selection of pre-set replies (13 in all), which range from “Yes” and “No” to “Will call later” and “Traffic delay.” That way you save both time and the effort to punch in a reply when a short “yes” will do.

You can also program a signature, so you don’t have to write in that each time you write a fresh message.

The T900 also comes with two great “silent” options for those times when you don’t want the audible alarm to sound off (meetings or other instances when you have to be discreet, like going to the movie theatres or to a classical concert). One option, “Quiet mode”, alerts you of incoming messages through a vibrating alarm. Another, “Private time,” doesn’t provide any alarms, and will let you check to see if you have any messages at your convenience. I recommend using the latter if it’s essential that you don’t cause any sounds. The vibrating alarm does emit a slight sound even if it’s in your pocket.

If you’re in an area with weak light, you can switch on the backlight through a button conveniently located at the far bottom left of the keyboard, making it easy to find even if it’s totally dark. The light can be switched off immediately by pressing the same button again (if you’re in a movie theatre this is a perfect solution).

Both of these options can be changed quickly and easily (using the Preferences option of the main menu), which is a great advantage if you’re in a rush to set the alarm in a certain way.

The T900 isn’t intended for reading long e-mails. From our desktop PC (using a hotmail account), we sent an e-mail of 118 words, but the T900 only received the first 67 words. A second attempt resulted in a cut-off after 70 words. We also tried through an AOL account and got 82 and 66 word cut-offs on two attempts.

The two-way text pager comes with its own unique e-mail address (for example 1234567@skytel.com) or lets you add Motorola’s recently launched MyMail solutions, which enables you to use your personal or work e-mail (including Microsoft Outlook and Lotus). The MyMail solutions cost an additional $29.95 to $49.95.

The unique e-mail address is hardly ideal. First, it’s not very personal, which means that you should warn your friends or contacts that you’re using this address if they are discriminate about which e-mails they open and when.

Another drawback is that you can’t input the subject matter – which would have helped alleviate the strange address (for example “Mail from Joachim”).

When you use the automatic replies (for example “Yes”) and send an e-mail to “Bill,” he’ll get this strange-looking message:

Reply Message: Reply from 1234567 is Yes to bill@aol.com |Re: are you there?|

Similarly, when you receive e-mail, the screen will list each on one line, and only show the sender’s address, which means you won’t be able to read the subject matter here either. Obviously you’d have to be discriminate about giving out your address. For an additional fee from the operator, you can also get information like news and stock quotes sent to the T900. However, please note that the information you get is pretty short (typically one sentence, i.e. far shorter than the wireless web sites from the same news organizations).

Despite these shortcomings, however, this is a great device. Motorola has been smart at setting the price so low and launching the MyMail as an additional service at a relatively reasonable price as well. There is no doubt that you get more than your money’s worth with the T900.