Like most professionals these days, you and your colleagues have come to rely on eMail to keep in touch from offices, homes, and when on the road. Here’s a rundown of some of the latest products and services that might come in handy as you launch the new school year.

A handful of new services have popped up in recent months that use sophisticated text-to-speech and voice-recognition technologies, giving users access to eMail messages over the phone.

In most cases, you simply dial a 1-800 number, tell the computer your access code, and the service goes to work, retrieving your messages from most existing eMail accounts. The text messages are converted into speech and a computer-generated voice reads them to you one-by-one.

Depending on the service, you can even reply to your messages following the reverse process.

One of the first voice-activated eMail services to hit the market is called myTalk.

Developed by General Magic Inc., myTalk is a free service for people who rely on eMail but don’t always have the opportunity to plug in, dial up, and log on.

With myTalk, the user interacts with the system only by voice; just tell the computer what you want it do.

Talking eMail

You can use your phone to reply—as a voice attachment—to the eMail message you just received.

MyInBox offers a similar service to people on the go. With MyInBox, the user can access eMail accounts from any phone, anywhere in the world.

As with myTalk, MyInBox features hands-free operation. You tell the system what to do, using spoken voice commands enabled by speaker-independent, voice-recognition technology.

And with the service’s ExpressReplies feature, you can send personalized text replies to anyone who sends you a message.

At press time, MyInBox was offering a free two-month trial for the service.

Others offering over-the-phone eMail access include e-Now and Mail Call.

If you’re looking for a more personal way to send eMail messages, you might want to check out RocketTalk (see eSchool News, April 1999), a free service that lets you send audio messages with your own voice.

RocketTalk works much like traditional eMail, but instead of typing a message, the user records the message in his or her own voice, leading to a faster, more effective, and more personal way of communicating ideas.

The product allows users to send messages to other registered users, or as an attachment to most eMail accounts. When going to a non-registered user, the messages are sent along with a small downloadable utility called Rocket Player, which decompresses and plays back the message on any sound-enabled computer.

Just the fax

Would you love to have important faxes come directly to your desktop instead of going to the fax machine, never knowing who might see them or what might happen to them?

Try eFax.com, a low-cost service that puts faxes directly in your eMail in-box as attachments.

When you sign up at eFax.com, you get a personal “fax” number. When people want to fax you a document, they go to their fax machines and dial your personal toll-free number.

The fax is received by the eFax Service Center, compressed, and forwarded to your existing eMail address.

There is a one-time $10 activation fee for eFax.com, half of which is credited toward the first three months of usage. From there, you pay $2.95 per month and 10 cents for every page you receive.

With eFax Plus (currently available only with Microsoft Windows 95, 98, and NT), you also can send faxes directly from your desktop. The advanced service also has a $10 activation fee, a $2.95 monthly service fee, and a charge of 5 cents for every 30 seconds it take to send a fax.

eMail only

Several companies have introduced, or are about to unveil, eMail-only devices.

If eMail is your main concern when traveling, these single-function appliances might be a cost-effective alternative to buying a laptop.

Ranging in price from $100 to $150, the devices allow users to send and receive eMail messages and faxes from virtually any phone, including cellular.

Both JVC ($129.95) and Sharp ($150) use technology from PocketScience in their portable eMail devices.

Called PocketMail, the service costs $9.95 per month for unlimited usage over a toll-free phone number.

Other portable, eMail-only devices are offered by Cidco (MailStation) and VTech (e-Mail Express).

For desktop versions, check out VTech’s e-Mail PostBox or Simpliance Inc.’s eMailBox.