By Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret
To many of us, the Internet is an essential part of our daily lives, whether we're communicating by email, chatting via instant messaging or surfing the Web for research or entertainment. But to some friends and family who don't own computers or aren't comfortable going online, the Internet can come off as a club that pulls its users closer together while causing others to feel left out.
For the analog grandfather who wishes he could see the digital vacation photos that everyone else in the family emails to one another, or the beloved aunt who just can't or won't get an email address, one company thinks it has a solution: turn emails and digital photos into paper documents, automatically, without a computer.
This week, we tested a new service called Presto that works with a special Hewlett-Packard printer called the Printing Mailbox. After setup, the user is assigned a Presto.com email address to which friends and family send text emails or photos. But the owner of this gadget doesn't need a computer, and never has to go online to retrieve emails. The Printing Mailbox automatically and periodically dials into the Internet using a regular phone line, retrieves all messages sent to it -- including photos -- and prints them out.
Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Printing Mailbox costs $150. The accompanying Presto service
The Presto plan includes optional free subscriptions to various articles and puzzles, which print out in addition to any emails that you receive. You set up and manage the account via a Web site accessed from a computer, a task intended to be performed on the owner's behalf by a friend or relative.