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HP StarLink Wireless Messaging Service: Easy to Use... and Fun!

HP StarLink Wireless Messaging Service: Easy to Use... and Fun!

By Hal Goldstein

I had less than 24 hours to play with HP StarLink. Then I had to pass it on to Mark Scardina at the Mobile'94 trade show in San Jose. I gave up my HP StarLink unit (the PCMCIA Motorola NewsCard wireless receiver and services) to Mark, a San Franciscan. This was because the StarLink services could not be used at my home base in Fairfield, Iowa -- the heartland of rural America. StarLink can be used in much of North America, Hong Kong and Singapore. Technical and political obstacles will impede services being available in Europe in the near future.

I did not want to give up my unit, even though I'm not yet ready to move to the big city to use it. StarLink was too much fun -- and I (and my wife) could foresee practical benefits.

I have never used a paging system. Frankly, I have been a little intimidated by "wireless" technology -- one more thing to learn and hassle with. However, as one HP representative pointed out to me, HP StarLink is really "low-tech".

I proved that point with my wife. Rita likes the fruit of computers - it facilitates her creative writing and bill-paying. However, computers are definitely not toys to her. Reluctantly, from our hotel room, I got her to send me a page as a test (I was standing right next to her). She called the 800 number I gave her, and dictated to the real-life operator a message. Rita hung up and a moment later the little green light on my NewsCard was blinking. I pressed ALT MORE on my Palmtop and there was my wife's message.

Rita was impressed and then disappointed to find no HP StarLink Service yet in Fairfield. She had visions of being able to contact me even if I was on the telephone at work or running an errand in town.

Similarly, office personnel would be able to beep me whether I was wandering around our two story office building, in town, or in my travels. They could leave me a message or update my PHONE or APPT book.

I also tested the modem service from my hotel room. I had my OmniBook dial the StarLink 800 number and make the connection. Leaving a typed message or even updating my Palmtop ToDo list was simple -- I just followed the prompts. Neither Mark nor I received manuals for this pre-release unit. Fortunately, StarLink was easy to use and no manual was needed.

Even though the service is sold directly from Hewlett-Packard, StarLink represents a partnership of many companies. HP StarLink consists of an HP 100LX and the Motorola PCMCIA NewsCard with its protruding pod (see photo). HP StarLink uses the services of National Dispatch Center out of San Diego, who in turn accesses paging services from several networks, including SkyTel.

The program is new and there will be inevitable kinks. For example, HP had approximately a 40% success rate demonstrating the service in the San Jose Convention Center. The metal structure of the building and "broadband radio noise" in the area caused many reception errors. However, I was able to receive messages downtown and in the adjacent hotel with only an occasional loss of characters.

The real fun of the pager was to periodically get news, sports, stock market, and entertainment flashes.

StarLink Sports Update Screen: Graphic

 The green light would blink, and I could check out the Chicago Bulls basketball score, the latest DOW, the PLO-Israeli peace talk progress, or whatever was on TV that night. If you trade stocks, or if your business depends on up-to-the-minute information, these options make StarLink more practical.

From just a few hours of use of HP StarLink, I now see why so many people are excited about the potential of wireless services. Reluctantly, I passed on my demo unit to Mark, who had just a few days to test it before our HP Palmtop Paper deadline.

iPhone Life magazine

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