Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

If You're a Basic Browser, MSN Companion Makes a Good Friend

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

If You're a Basic Browser, MSN Companion Makes a Good Friend

Article excerpt

Byline: Ed Stansel, Times-Union staff writer

If all you want to do is e-mail and basic Web browsing, why buy a big, boxy beige PC?

Microsoft offers an alternative: the MSN Companion, an "Internet appliance" geared for those who want a simple way to access the Net.

And that's all this device does -- you can't download anything, install new programs, play music CDs or write a report. There's no word processor, no spreadsheet program, no floppy drive, no hard drive.

That said, this gadget does a respectable job at what its was designed to do: Just plug in the power cord and a phone line, press a button and you're online.

The MSN Companion is sold under a couple of different brand names. The one I tried is the iPaq Home Internet Appliance, made by Compaq (www.compaq.com). Budget PC-maker eMachines (www.e4me.com) offers its own model.

The device connects to the Internet through the MSN online service -- you can't use any other Internet service provider. The service alone will cost you $21.95 a month. Once you're connected through the built-in 56 kilobits-per-second modem, the gadget updates its software automatically as needed.

The iPaq comes with a 10.1-inch flat-panel monitor that folds neatly onto its base unit, which has a built-in speaker and four USB ports for a printer or other optional equipment.

The wireless keyboard makes for less clutter and lets you kick back while cruising the Web. But you may want to invest in a USB mouse, since the push pad on the keyboard is a clumsy way of moving around on the screen. The keyboard features Internet shortcut buttons you can hit to call up your e-mail, check news headlines, shop online or go to other sites -- all hosted by Microsoft, of course. You can bookmark your own favorite sites, but only 30 of them.

The iPaq model IA-1 retails for $599. …

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