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Amstrad unveils £99 videophone

Prepares to enter broadband era with Wi-Fi adaptor

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UK consumer electronics company Amstrad today launched the third generation of email terminal - now dubbed the E3 - in a bid to bring video telephony to the masses.

While the device is initially geared toward dial-up connectivity, company chief Sir Alan Sugar forecast support for broadband through a plug-on Wi-Fi unit, The Register can report.

Amstrad E3 videophone

The E3 provides the same voice telephony and email services as its predecessors, the Em@iler and Em@iler Plus, but adds a colour display, an integrated digicam and support for MMS messaging, both incoming and outgoing.

For voice calls, the E3 operates as a standard voice phone. However, if one party pushes the handset's video button, and the other party agrees to join the voice call, the unit switches over to an IP-based voice/video call via its built-in 56Kbps modem. While the voice call is billed at the rate set by the caller's telco, the video call is costs a one-off payment of 50p, billed to whoever initiated it.

Both parties need an E3, which costs £99. Amstrad is offering a £20 mail-in rebate to punters who buy two units at the same time.

Email access is billed at 15p a session plus the cost of the local-rate call needed to dial up Amstrad's servers. Web surfing costs 5p a minute, but is limited to 'approved' sites that are formatted for the E3's display size. Users can also download ye olde Sinclair Spectrum games - unlike previous versions, the E3 comes with a game controller - and polyphonic ringtones. Content is stored in the unit's 64MB of RAM, while addresses are held in 32MB of Flash ROM, four times' the amount installed in the original Em@iler, a company representative told The Register.

MMS messages cost £1 to send, but sending by email a picture taken with the digicam costs only 25p. Amstrad not only makes money on one-off use of such services, but takes cash from advertisers whose messages it beams through to the E3.

Amstrad has also added a USB port to the device, which not only allows digital camera owners to preview pictures stored on a connected unit and then email a shot at the push of a button, but soon to connect to the Internet via a home WLAN, Sugar said.

With only 14 per cent of UK homes subscribing to broadband services, according to June 2004 figures from telecoms watchdog Ofcom, the time isn't right to offer broadband support, Sugar admitted, but he said Amstrad will offer a system software update - auto-downloaded overnight - that supports a USB "radio dongle" - essentially a USB 802.11b adaptor.

That paves the way for better video and audio quality that the E3 can currently deliver. However, it's of little use to people who want to see callers around the world - the E3's video service only works in the UK, Amstrad said.

The E3 is available in the UK from today, on an exclusive basis from Dixons Store Group shops. Distribution will be broadened to other retailers "just ahead of Christmas", Sugar said. ®

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