Taking the Fun Out

By eweek  |  Posted 2003-05-20 Print this article Print

of Functional"> Overall, the product provides good support for most of AIMs functionality. Groups are key to organization here. If youve set up your buddy list with up to six groups (corresponding to the six main navigation buttons on the device), youll be rewarded with streamlined access to your buddies. If you have more than six, those remaining online are thrown into an ad hoc "Other" group. In contrast, Apples iChat application doesnt support groups at all. You can use and create custom Away messages, send warnings, and even engage in multi-user buddy chat. The product is responsive to buddies coming online and leaving offline, and you can have up to six simultaneous IM sessions going. An LED lets you know if you have a waiting message. From there on, youll mostly be switching among the group and buddy soft-buttons, and the "Whos On" and "Talk" buttons.
However, as much as I wanted to like the IMFree, using it was just not a good experience. The keyboard is mushier than "Maid in Manhattan" and the display has some of the dimmest characters youre likely to see on a screen until the release of "Dumb and Dumberer." Worse, you have to keep angling the device so that it catches the light because there is no backlight; thats a deal breaker. Also, forget about such nice mobile text tricks such as acronym dictionaries or auto-capitalization.
More importantly for Motorolas intended target audience, the IMFree dispenses with any of the cosmetic amenities—garish as their usage often is—such as fonts, sizes, and colors. Kids frequently use these expressive elements. The IMFree offers partial support for smileys; it offers on-screen graphical shortcuts to send them, but displays only their textual equivalents in context. Of course, some things had to be sacrificed to get the retail price to $99.99, and its hard to justify a higher price for a dedicated AIM device, particularly one that doesnt roam beyond the house. As Ive discovered, though, at least some people are very interested in taking their computing experiences around the house. So, if Motorola moves forward with the concept, it would benefit by improving the basics of input and output. After all, how well can anyone AIM in the dark? Is an inexpensive home-bound cordless product the key to instant messaging or just an instant mess? E-mail me. Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin is a senior analyst at eMarketer. He has researched wireless communications since 1994 and has been covering technology since 1989. More from Ross Rubin:


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