Kids will spend hours a day sending instant messages to each other. On cell phones, texting is more popular with the small set than making calls. And it is more than just words: Along with the text come photos, graphic images and emoticons to convey feelings.
Now there is a little hand-held device that will let the kids send their IMs and text without monopolizing the computer - and keep your costs to a minimum.
Billed as the Ultimate Messaging Device, the ZipIt, or Z2, from ZipIt Wireless is a tiny device that lets your kids send IMs to each other for free. The Z2 opens up like a little laptop and sports a full QWERTY back-lit keyboard that is ideal for typing in dark places. The screen is a full color, 2.9-inch LCD screen that can easily display colorful text and fonts, pictures, graphics and more. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery lasts for hours of IMing.
The Z2 supports 802.11b and g WiFi protocols and will work on your home's wireless networking with WEP and WPA security. In addition to working on any open Wireless hot spots, Zipit Wireless has arranged for the Z2 to work for free with any of the thousands of McDonald's restaurants that offer WiFi service.
Setting up the Z2 is a piece of cake.
If your kids have an IM account on AOL/AIM, MSN and Yahoo Messenger, they are set to go. The Z2 works with all of them, and they can chat with up to 99 users at the same time. All they have to do is log on to any of those services using their screen names and passwords. All of the names on their existing Buddy Lists will automatically transfer and be available to them on the Z2.
But unlike these services on a computer, they can only chat with their buddies and cannot be contacted by strangers looking to open a new chat with them anonymously. Parents should really like that security feature. Parents can also control when the Z2 is active so that they can, for example, set a nighttime curfew to insure that their kids are not sending IMs in the wee hours.
Texting protocols work with the SMS texting platform and work with more than 20 major cell carriers, so they can send and receive text messages to just about anyone with a cell phone.
The Z2 sports a MiniSD card slot for storing photos they take with a digital camera or images transferred from their computers. The card also can be used to store and transfer MP3 files. That is because the Z2 also is an MP3 player. You also can choose to stream music directly from the Internet: Plug in any stereo headphones or ear buds and listen. So now the kids can chat, listen to music and share photos from virtually anywhere with a WiFi connection.
There are no IM fees what- soever. Texting fees apply. The first 10 text messages are free, and there is an optional 3,000 messages for $4.99 per month. The Z2 sells for $149.99. If your children are into IMing and texting, but you don't want them on the computer all the time or burning up minutes on a cell phone, then the Z2 might prove to be the best and most economical way for them to communicate with one another.
Craig Crossman hosts the radio talk show, "Computer America," on the Business TalkRadio Network and the Lifestyle TalkRadio Network.