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Timex Internet Watch Pushes Buttons

With the new Timex Internet Messenger watch , you can receive news headlines whenever you want, wherever you are.

Sounds cool, until you start receiving the headlines. That's when you might decide that any news reducible to a wristwatch-sized factoid probably isn't worth reading anyway.

But more about that later. The Internet Messenger is the latest model in a decade-old parade, from various manufacturers, of watches that double as pagers. It's at the pioneering edge of no-hassle mobile communication: If the information you're getting isn't literally at your fingertips, it's darn close.

Just Watch Me

Featuring service from the national carrier SkyTel, the Internet Messenger allows for a number of different paging options. It's a numeric pager that delivers to your wrist the phone number or numeric message of people who call your pager number and punch it in. A few moments later, your watch starts beeping or vibrating silently (your choice); push a button and the phone number starts scrolling across the bottom of the watch's liquid crystal display.

The Internet Messenger can deliver text messages to the pager as well, sent to a special email address or entered onto a form at SkyTel's Web site. If you're willing to pay more, people can send you text pages by calling a SkyTel operator and dictating a message to be sent. This text-messaging feature is what enables the news headlines as well.

By the way, the watch also tells time. It shares the features of a lot of digital watches: multiple alarms, a stopwatch with an eight-lap memory and a countdown timer.

The price for the watch is $99, but that's just for the hardware and a brief free trial. The paging service costs extra; exactly how much extra depends on what you sign up for and what type of deal SkyTel might be running. Metro area text service, for example, costs $20 for signup and $9.99 a month, with 500 messages of up to 100 characters included. Messages dictated to an operator cost 65 cents per 80-character block.

Is it worth it? As with all cool gadgets, the answer is, of course not. Your money's better spent on clothing, food and shelter. But assuming you've got some disposable income, let's try to work out the pluses and minuses.

On the Same Pager

About the only reason to merge a wristwatch and a pager is to minimize the electronics you carry around with you. In that case, using the watch as a numeric pager (service starting at $4.99 a month) seems pointless because you'll still need to carry a phone to learn what your caller wants to tell you. But for receiving brief text messages, it's fine. You'd probably want the operator dictation option, though, unless you're sure the people paging you have ready access to a computer.

At a Glance
Product Timex Internet Messenger Watch
Price $99, plus paging signup and service fees
Verdict Not pretty, but cool, if you can figure out a use for it
For More Info www.timex.com, www.skytel.com, mobile.yahoo.com

So much for the watch as a pager. Timex is also marketing the watch as a tool for receiving alerts and news from the Internet, designating Yahoo! as the favored provider of information and services, though not the exclusive one. For free, your watch sends you news flashes from Yahoo! six times a day. In addition, you can go to Yahoo! Mobile site and sign up to get various alerts -- breaking news in particular categories, sports scores, stock movements or the progress of whatever online auctions in which you might be participating. (Depending on your brand preference, you can also sign up for alerts from MSN, Lycos or eBay.) These additional messages beyond the half-dozen Yahoo! broadcasts are free from Yahoo! and the others, but they count against your paging plan's message quota.

If you search hard enough, you can find more exotic alerts, often free. At TheStreet.com, you can be notified if a story has been published mentioning whatever stock you're interested in. At Web sites run by airlines such as American and United, careful travelers can learn whether their flights are still on time. At The Weather Channel , you can sign up for emergency storm warnings. At PursuitWatch Network , you can be alerted to O.J.-inspired car chases. "Never miss a High-speed Chase on Live TV again!" promises the site.

Mr. Crummles

But if you're not a rabid fan of sports, auctions or high-speed chases, the message service is an amusing disappointment. Once I signed up for morning business news, the alert I received one day was "INVESTORS SNAP UP STOCKS, BONDS." Whoa. Thank goodness I didn't miss that one. Time to call a broker.

More unintended humor came with the morning weather roundup the day before Thanksgiving. According to my watch, there would be exactly the same weather -- 66 degrees and partly cloudy -- in 10 different cities around the U.S., ranging from Denver to Boston and from New Orleans to Minneapolis. In seven other cities, including Dallas and Detroit, it would be sunny and 85. The real outlier was Seattle, where there would be both sleet and a temperature of 87. I don't know how you're supposed to dress for that.

The general news alerts, some arriving as Yahoo!'s half-dozen daily news flashes, were vague enough to be funny as well. "AS TALIBAN CRUMBLES, POLITICAL BLUEPRINT SOUGHT" I got one day. "U.S. VOWS TO 'GET' BIN LADEN; U.N. TALKS MAY BE SOON." In what order did they arrive? I don't know, and it doesn't really matter. Heck, I didn't need a pager for those bulletins; I could have written them myself.

So much for staying current. If you want to get pages and more personalized alerts while you're, say, out running in the park, the Timex Internet Messenger is a relatively convenient choice. Be prepared, though, for some bumps along the way. My Yahoo! alerts went on hiatus for a few days, for reasons I haven't figured out. Another site that Timex spotlights for its free alerts, Web2Mobile.com , wasn't working on the two days I tried to sign up.

Be also forewarned that the watch requires a lot of button pushing and instruction reading. It has numerous nifty touches, such as automatic pager shutoff at the end of the working day, but they require lots of fiddling to learn how to use them. That type of electronic exploration isn't for all tastes.

And don't think the watch is going to win any beauty contests. The band's buckle looks a little cheap. With the body of the watch a half-inch thick and about an inch-and-a-half in diameter, the Internet Messenger wasn't designed for petite wrists.

Of course, if you don't want to miss the next live high-speed chase on TV, that's a small price to pay.

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