WHEN it comes to electronic gadgetry, small is definitely beautiful. This is a fact proven many times over by the popularity of such devices as mobile phones, pagers, digital organisers, palmtop computers, personal digital assistants, and pocket fax/ modems. A pocket fax/modem has to be literally small enough to fit inside an ordinary pocket, enabling it to be carried around for use with a notebook computer, for example. But while desktop modems operating at speeds of 28.8 kilobits per second are now being introduced quickly, one would be hard pressed to find a pocket modem running at 14.4 Kbps, or at 9,600 bps. The same issue of differences in functionality is also true of the fax side of the fax/modem equation. Interestingly, the makers of most fax/modems tend to publicise the functionality of the modem and appear to tag the fax bit on the end as an enhancement. When a company that makes what appears to be a perfectly good pocket-sized fax/modem comes along and touts the fax side of things more than the data part, one begins to wonder what the catch is. This was the case with a nifty-looking Australian-made device called Microfax that ended up on my desk recently. Almost all the documentation that came with it extolled the virtues of the featureless little black rectangle of plastic-enshrouded electronics as a superb stand-alone fax device. Almost cursory reference was made to its 2,400 bps data transmission capability as a modem. Contrary to initial expectations, Microfax's modem worked fine, although 2,400 bps is slow enough to get you booted off many of Hong Kong's BBSs for cluttering upa line. It was when we tried out Microfax's fax capabilities that the fun began. Not because the device didn't work, but because it did work, and in a totally unexpected way. Although you can use conventional fax applications such as Winfax and Bitfax with Microfax, you don't have to do so to be able to use it to send a fax directly from your PC. Microfax comes with Walkabout, a specialised fax program, built in. This lets you type a document in any DOS-based word processor and fax it through Microfax, as long as it contains only text. Microfax only needs to be plugged into the serial port of your PC, and three simple commands need to be issued in DOS. One of these redirects data sent to your printer through your computer's parallel port over to your serial port. Microfax has a parallel connection on one end that allows your printer to be connected to it, too. When these arrangements have been made, you are ready to send a fax. As long as the first three letters of the document to be faxed spell 'FAX' and are followed by the destination fax number, Microfax will fax them out when you select print from your word processor's menus and transmit it. Although Microfax was unable to transmit documents saved in any format other than ASCII, or to transmit graphics of any sort, it had no problems transmitting documents sent though a program such as Winfax. Only, in this way, it had to be treated as any old fax/modem. The device is also capable of acting as a stand-alone fax, even when your PC is turned off. It has enough on-board memory to be able to store several pages of incoming faxes and output them directly to an HP laser printer. (Newer versions of Microfax to be released next year will be compatible with other printers and operate at higher speeds, the makers promise.) You merely have to connect Microfax to a printer. As if that wasn't enough reason to go out and buy this gadget that sells for a little over $3,000, another useful - and yes, fax-related - feature was discovered. If Microfax is connected to a phone line and has received faxes, you can call it up and by issuing a few tone-dial commands, redirect those stored faxes to any fax machine around the world. Overall, Microfax passed our rigorous testing. It is not, however, battery operated and, therefore, cannot be moved from its stand-alone position to a nearby printer to output received faxes without unplugging it from its A/C power outlet, thus erasing the lot. Microfax is, however, addressing this with an AA battery-run power pack. No wonder Microfax likes to plug it wherever possible as the best thing for faxing since the invention of thermal paper.