A message for those of you with no iPhone or BlackBerry: Your cellphone is smarter than you think.
In fact, your boring old cellphone has enormous potential. Here is a guide to checking your email, looking up information and updating your calendar, just by sending text messages. You can use any cellphone, but you’ll need a generous text-messaging plan.
For email, I tested TeleFlip, a free service that lets you send and receive email via text messaging. TeleFlip works with any email account that doesn’t require a secure connection to the Web. That applies to all the major Web-based email providers, including Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and Gmail.
Signing up for TeleFlip took me under five minutes. All I needed to enter was my Gmail email address and password, my cellphone number, and a confirmation number that TeleFlip sent to my cellphone — via text message, of course. TeleFlip then had me build a “whitelist” of contacts, by importing my address book or manually adding email addresses. If I receive an email from someone not on that list, I don’t get it on my cellphone — an annoying quirk. (TeleFlip has plans to let users access all of their emails, beginning around August.)
TeleFlip does what it promises — but it’s neither fast nor pretty. It took from three to 35 minutes for TeleFlip to text me my emails after Gmail received them, averaging about 10 minutes. Because cellphone carriers typically limit text messages to 160 characters, TeleFlip chops each email into snippets, sent in successive text messages. You can decide how many snippets you want to receive. I thought three was enough to get the gist of the messages.
You can also instantly send email. TeleFlip assigns a nickname to each of your contacts — the first six characters of their email address. To send email, text TeleFlip at 33715 and type the recipient’s nickname and the message — for example: “walt.m Thanks for your email. I’ll get back to you soon.” It will appear to the recipient as if it came from your email, not your cellphone.
One turnoff: Each time I received an email via TeleFlip, the company sent a one-time email to the sender telling them about TeleFlip. I found that intrusive. TeleFlip says it will let users disable those emails starting around August.
To search the Web, I tried services from Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO) and 4info. Google can be reached by sending a text message to 466453 (“Google”); for Yahoo, text 92466 (“Yahoo”); for 4info, text 44636 (“4info”).
To find information, it’s useful to know some shortcuts: For a stock quote, text message a ticker symbol. For sports scores, type a team’s name. For local information, type “weather,” “movies,” or the name of a local business, along with a ZIP Code or the name of a city. In my tests, all three services responded accurately to my text messages in under 10 seconds.
Each service has unique features. To find local businesses, I liked Yahoo because it includes cross streets. For instance, when I searched for a certain Indian restaurant, Yahoo gave me its phone number and address, as well as the text, “Near the intersection of Valencia St and 21st St.”
I liked that 4info lets you set up customized alerts to your cellphone — texting you, say, when Target’s stock falls by more than 5% (4info.net/alerts/add/stock) or when a Red Sox game ends (4info.net/alerts/add/sports).
Google, meanwhile, sends you driving directions if you text it this: “directions from (address, city or ZIP Code) to (address, city or ZIP Code).” You can also do rudimentary searches by texting Google: “web” plus the search term.
In response to Web-search queries, Google typically sends back text messages with words from the top search results. So, be extra-precise with your search terms. While parking my car, I couldn’t remember what a blue curb meant. I texted Google, “web blue curb” and got an unhelpful result from a university Web site. Next, I typed, “web parking blue paint curb” and received a message telling me that a blue curb designates parking for the disabled.
With Google Calendar, you also can check and update your calendar using text messaging. To start, visit calendar.google.com. Click “Settings” in the top corner and then click the “Mobile Setup” tab to register your cellphone for notifications. Click the “Calendars” tab. Next, click “Notifications” and follow instructions.
You can receive text-message reminders for events. You can also ask for a daily agenda, or even get reminders on the fly at 48368 (“Gvent”). Texting “day” got me the day’s schedule, texting “next” got me my next event and texting “nday” got me the following day’s schedule.
My favorite part: You can add events to your Google Calendar by texting “Gvent.” To add a dinner date for the following week, I simply wrote, “dinner Tuesday 7 pm.” When I visited Google Calendar online a few minutes later, the event was already listed.
- Send email to Vauhini.Vara@wsj.com. Walter S. Mossberg returns on June 5.