The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Pocketmail as a Mobile Blogging Device

Peewiglet posted a comment on my original posting about my mobile blogging device, asking whether the Pocketmail worked well for me on our LEJOG trip.

Once again, I found myself writing an essay in response, so I thought that I may as well just expand it and write a little bit of a review:

The bottom line is that for me on this trip, the Pocketmail worked fantastically well. It really did turn out to be my ideal device.

Once I got used to the keyboard (as there are fewer keys than on a standard keyboard many symbols require the use of a ‘2nd’ key) I could type pretty fast on it – even when sitting hunched over in the tent (Mick’s back did come in handy for use as a table when I wanted to use one!).

To send the messages, you pull out a little microphone on the back of the device, hold the whole thing up to a telephone (pretty much any telephone will do), dial the Pocketmail access number (it’s an 0870 number) and press the transmit button. The device then ‘chatters’ away for a minute or two (it feels more like two when you’re sitting there waiting for it to finish, but I’m sure that it wasn’t really quite that long).

What I did find was that I needed at least a constant ‘2 bar’ signal on my mobile for the transmission to work, but if neither Mick nor I had a good enough signal, then a payphone would work (albeit it was more expensive, but don’t get me started on the cost of payphones these days).

Sending the messages didn’t turn out to be as expensive as I thought it may have been. When I took the trouble to find out the cost of the occasional post, it was about 30-40p per post from my mobile (that’s not actually a useful fact is it, as it depends on your tariff and how much you write in your emails; I did waffle a bit).

Even better, the first set of batteries (two AAs) lasted seven weeks (the second set remain unexhausted). The battery life, and the fact that it ran off standard batteries, was one of the most important points for me (along with being touch-typeable), and seven weeks was well beyond my expectations, particularly considering the amount I was using it.

Now the downsides:
I can see that the Pocketmail isn’t a device that would appeal to everyone.

The big limitation, when compared with modern phones, is that it only sends/receives text-only emails (so it’s only good as a blogging device if your blog accepts posts via email). There's no web access, no ability to send photos, no ability to format text and no bells and whistles (of course, if it did have those features then you’d lose on the battery life).

The other problem (for me, with my shallow pockets and tight nature) is that it has a £10-ish/month service charge. For a three month trip, I was more than happy to pay that because I could use it with my existing Pay-As-You-Go mobile and it didn’t require me to change my mobile to a battery-eating one, nor to fork out for a contract phone that I would be stuck with for 12 months or more. However, I won’t be paying out the service charge indefinitely, because I just don’t mobile-blog enough to warrant it.

I will keep the service going for our next couple of trips (C2C in September and WHW in October), then I will terminate it.

For my own mobile-blogging requirements, I would happily re-activate and use the device for future big trips, although I fear that the Pocketmail will be obsolete by the time we next come to do an epic walk, which means that I’ll be seeking a different mobile blogging device. I’m sure that that will be a compromise: I can’t believe that there’s anything else there that is as lightweight, has such good battery power, is touch-typeable and doesn’t require a long contract tie-in.


  1. In addition I'm also wondering how long you will be able to buy it and/or the subscription service will be available in the future. The manufacturer is financially not in the best shape, the website hasn't been updated since2007, no further developments in terms of new devices and/or software. It doesn't look to good. Too many smartphones on the market who over more functionalities but of course do have disadvantages in terms of battery life, poor keyboards etc.

  2. Very many thanks for the comprehensive reply :) I've never had an idea of how these blogging devices work, but I see what you mean about holding this one up to any phone. That's amazing!

    *gets a warm, fuzzy technological feeling*

    7 weeks or even more with 2 x AAs is also extremely impressive. I always like to take things that will use standard batteries, for the fairly obvious reasons, which is why until now my camera has been a Powershot and I carry a MuVo MP3 player rather than an iPod.

    I suppose that if I do decide to get some sort of device I'll have to look into it thoroughly. In the meantime, though, these sound very attractive.

    Thanks again for the great info :)

  3. Hi Gayle

    Pleased to hear the Pocketmail worked well fro you - you've certainly made good use of it! I found the ease of use a joy when brain-dead after a long day.

    I do agree the subscription cost is a bit high, on the other hand, the thing is cheap to buy !

    Also agree with Roman that the company doesn't sound the most robust, which could be a concern for a long trip.

    cheers Judy Armstrong