Review: You've Got AOL Mobile Communicator!

Looking for a way to stay in touch on the go? AOL Mobile Communicator might be the easiest, and most affordable solution for you. The Mobile Communicator is one of the newer additions to the AOL’s AOL Anywhere initiative. Based on the familiar BlackBerry design from Research in Motion (RIM), the AOL Mobile Communicator is a smartly designed pager-sized device for sending and receiving your AOL e-mail and instant messages. This thing will turn heads, even among the crowd that would normally say something like, "You still use AOL?" (you know who you are).

AOL users will have no problem learning how to use the Mobile Communicator. RIM has received kudos for making its BlackBerry amazingly easy to navigate, and this certainly continues with the Mobile Communicator. One of my favorite features is the thumb-wheel, used to scroll through e-mails and menus, and also pressed to make selections. I quickly adjusted to the small-but-manageable keyboard -- you can get typing fairly quickly with your thumbs. One feature you’ll really appreciate is that the buddy list on your Mobile Communicator is automatically synced with the one on your AOL account, so there’s no need to have to add everyone on to it when you first get the device.

Once you’ve used it, you’ll find the Mobile Communicator to be quite addictive. After instant messaging while going sixty-five miles per hour on the highway (of course, not while driving), you’re not going to want to go back to desktop messaging. The one snag I hit was a lag before some instant messages were delivered. Most of the time, they are delivered about as fast as when you’re on a desktop computer. One time while in the car, however, the lag hit a couple of minutes. An AOL spokesperson addressed the issue, "As you know, our AOL Mobile Communicator device operates over the BellSouth Wireless Data Network, now Cingular. We are highly committed to reliability and ensuring our members have the most positive wireless online experience possible. In looking for a partner, we found that BellSouth best met those needs."

Right now, the AOL Mobile Communicator offers only instant messaging and e-mail, which of course are the most popular features of its wired counterpart. I wondered whether they were going to be offering additional features on the Mobile Communicator in the future, such as stock quotes or weather reports. An AOL spokesperson replied, "As you probably know, we are always looking to improve our features and functionality, and we will continue to work with our members to provide what they want to see in a wireless environment." They continued, "If members tell us they want more content and other features, we'll certainly look into that down the road." The bottom line, if you want to see these or other services offered -- ask AOL!

Your other main option for a fully integrated wireless experience is OmniSky, which runs about $39.95 a month plus the cost of modem and Palm organizer. You can get AOL Instant Messenger and AOL Mail to run on your OmniSky, but you won’t be able to remain online when you turn off your Palm. The AOL Mobile Communicator remains on and connected when you slip it into the belt clip, something you can’t do with AOL on OmniSky. On the other hand, OmniSky users have the advantage of a Palm organizer at their disposal.

Pricing for the AOL Mobile Communicator is $329.95 for the device, and then $19.95 a month for service. To subscribe, you must already be on AOL’s unlimited pricing plan, which is $21.95 a month. For more information, AOL users can go to Keyword: Mobile Communicator. Coming up in a future review, I’ll take a look at AOLTV.

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