Nostalgiamatic: The Sharp TM-20 with PocketMail

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It all started back in 2000. The Y2K scare had come and gone with nary a hiccup, Who Let The Dogs Out by Baha Men was unfortunately taking the music world by storm, and a fresh-faced youngster named Doug Aamoth (me!) was finessing his way through his junior year at the University of Puget Sound. Ah t’was a simpler time, to be certain.

All of a sudden, a portable device emerged – a device so mind-blowing, so awesome, and so utterly useful that it left me no choice but to barrel down the icy bobsled track known as gadget-induced credit card debt. That device was the Sharp TM-20.

smartphoneNot to sound like a jack-knob, but you kids have it easy nowadays. Back in my day, we didn’t have BlackBerry devices. Sure, some of our fathers were starting to ingest the first sweet and delicate juices of the unassuming, yet highly-addictive CrackBerry, as it’d come to be called, but for the most part, e-mail stayed on the computer and the computer stayed at home (unless you had a gigantic laptop).

Today, there’s a device known simply as “Peek” that’s about to descend upon casual e-mail junkies everywhere, promising nothing but e-mail and a QWERTY keyboard for $99 plus $20 per month.

Well before Peek, there was PocketMail.

Picture this, if you will. The Sharp TM-20 — a $400 PDA device, plus a service called PocketMail that ran roughly $12.95 per month (if memory serves). The TM-20 looked like any other ordinary old school PDA device and had many of the same features as old school PDA devices – calendar, address book, memo pad, alarm clock, 239×80 dot-matrix LCD, 512KB of memory – plus one undeniably awesome addition…

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Boom.

See the underside of the device there? You’d pick up a payphone, dial an 800 number, and hold the top part against the earpiece of the phone and the bottom part against the mouthpiece of the phone. After a series of squeaks, squawks, and digital handshaking that totaled, oh, about a minute or so, you’d open your device and find a nice, full inbox populated with fresh-as-dew e-mails. Any e-mails you’d typed up would be rocketed out into cyberspace at a face-melting 14.4 kilobits per second.

I used to take my TM-20 to class, take notes on it, and then stand out in the hallway with it pressed against the payphone while I waited for my next class to start. Things were just getting to the point where nobody really used payphones any more even though not everyone was using cell phones all the time. And while it wasn’t an anomaly to see a kid like me using the payphone, it was definitely weird to see a kid like me holding some sort of doodad up against the phone while it belched out zeros and ones for an uncomfortably long period of time.

But did I care? No way, no how. As time went by, certain models of cell phones were eventually able to squawk into the TM-20 as well, making it a truly mobile e-mail solution. Then one day it was either announced that the PocketMail service would be discontinued or grossly inflated in price. Again, my memory… she fails me.

I seem to remember it having something to do with price, though, and I had just purchased a hot new Sanyo flip phone — the first one for Sprint to have a color LCD screen and polyphonic ringtones – and I was able to get my Hotmail on it. Alas, the TM-20 and I parted ways. I may not carry a huge dial-up e-mail device in my pocket any more, but I’ll always carry the memories. I’ll always… carry… the memories.

See more about the Sharp TM-20 (without being able to buy one) on Amazon’s product page. Be sure to read some of the customer reviews, too. Good times.

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