A new wave of e-mail breaks free -- Creative features such as the ability to include images and videos makes getting mail more exciting

Go ahead: Listen to your e-mail from a pay phone. Enclose that video of Junior’s bar mitzvah in an e-text. Send messages back and forth via two-way pagers. It’s not your grandmother’s e-mail anymore. While electronic mail has always been the single most popular use for the Internet — even as far back as the primeval days of the early 1970s — with an exploding number of ways to send, receive, and manage messages, it’s starting to look like the revolution has barely begun.

One of the more radical changes in how we swap information electronically is cost: You can now do it for free. But there are so many new gee-whiz features becoming available that it’s hard to resist the services and software for which you have to fork over a few bucks. For instance, while AOL 4.0 users have been able, since last year, to dress up text messages with different typefaces and include photo images in the messages themselves (rather than as attached files), sophisticated messaging programs like Microsoft’s Outlook or Eudora Pro 4.0 now make it feasible to send similarly snazzy missives almost anywhere on the Net.

That’s just the beginning. New software like CVideo-Mail Professional and Zap Mobile Pro lets you incorporate video (either clipped from tape or filmed with a PC camera) into electronic mail. Sending birthday-party footage to grandparents or birthday-suit footage to significant others is among the expected popular uses of video e-mail.

Of course, bells and whistles don’t mean diddly when you’re away from your computer. That’s where gizmos like Motorola’s PageWriter 2000 come in. This Uberbeeper is about the size of a deck of cards but has a full keyboard built in. In addition to alphanumeric pages, it can receive (and send) e-mail from just about any place you can get paged. Unfortunately, both the hardware and the service are priced at a premium.

On the other hand, AT&T’s PocketNet service lets you read and reply to e-mail on the digital display of a mobile phone — provided you’re willing to endure the frustration of ”typing” on a telephone keypad. And if you’re both cellular- and pager-deprived, CoolMail can help. This service lets you dial into a server remotely — from, say, an airport pay phone — access your e-mail account, and listen as text-to-voice software reads your incoming messages to you. All of which means that if you’re within spitting distance of any kind of late-20th-century technology, you should be able to get your e-mail. And getting the message, wherever you are, is still what the Net is all about.