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Toy Or Tool?

Two not-so-necessary Net appliances

We're supposed to be rocketing full throttle into the age of Internet appliances, meaning e-mail on every street corner and the Web in every room of your home. Two stand-alone Internet appliances started the charge last year: the MailStation from Cidco and the i-opener from Netpliance. Sure, they're compact and sleek, but is there any place for them in your business?

The $99 MailStation is a single-minded machine. Its sole purpose is to handle e-mail. To that end, it supports up to five e-mail accounts and stores up to 1,000 contacts and 400 messages. Its modem clocks in at 33.6Kbps-not state-of-the-art but fast enough for e-mail. The downside? The keyboard measures less than full size, and the integrated monochrome screen is similar in size to a palmtop. Plus, if you already have an e-mail account, the best you can do is forward your messages to the MailStation. Unfortunately, opening attachments requires using a separate PC. All this costs $9.95 per month for unlimited e-mail. The verdict? A good idea for Grandma, but it won't top a real computer and e-mail service for handling your business account.

The $199 i-opener looks somewhat reminiscent of a super-slim desktop. The device consists of a 10-inch flat screen, a mouse and a keyboard. Even the most cluttered desk will find room for it. Equipped with a PS/2 port, a printer port and a USB port, the i-opener seems to be more promising for business applications. A $21.95 monthly fee covers limited Web access and e-mail.

The i-opener won't get too much use in an office environment, but it could offer a quick way to stay connected at home. Until more business-oriented, flexible products arrive, you should approach these gadgets mainly as playthings. In the meantime, PCs are in no danger of being supplanted.

This story appears in the February 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »