Google Inc. (GOOG) aims to close the gap between the classic way people get e-mail — sitting at a computer — and the slow-as-molasses reality of receiving e-mail on cell phones, the company said on Thursday.

The Web search leader is introducing a custom version of its Gmail e-mail service that can run on any phone with Java software, or close to 300 different mobile-phone devices.

"Because it is an application and not running through a browser ... it looks and feels like Gmail on the desktop," said Tony Hsieh, product manager for the Gmail on mobile service.

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Gmail for mobile, as the new service is known, promises computer-like response times for viewing e-mail. And it retains many of the features users expect when running Gmail in Web browsers on their personal computers, Hsieh said.

These include the ability to search through one's e-mail history, to organize e-mails according to conversation, and automatic synchronization so any e-mail read on the phone show up as already read when you sign on a computer the next time.

Initially, the service is available in the United States on phones from Sprint Nextel Corp., (S) T-Mobile, [owned by Deutsche Telekom (DT)] and Cingular, which is a joint venture between AT&T Inc. (T) and BellSouth (BLS).

Google later plans to expand Gmail for mobile to other countries and languages.

The phones need to be able to run or support Java software, a programming language commonly used in cell phones to create games and other applications.

Gmail for mobile also allows phone users to receive document attachments, including Word or Adobe (ADBE) Acrobat files and photos, which are instantly viewable and automatically resized to fit the user's phone screen.

True e-mail obsessives have other options, but they are pricey and out of reach of most consumers. Millions of professionals have become instantly available via Blackberry phones. Millions more use more or less copycat e-mail services on smart phones.

Virtually all mobile phones sold worldwide for the past 18 months come with a Web browser. Just be prepared to wait 30 seconds to a minute to sign on and download each e-mail.

Users of Gmail, or rivals like Yahoo Mail, can already view their e-mail this way, but it's slow and hard to use.

Mobile users can go to http://gmail.com/app on their Java phone browser to download the application.

Gmail for mobile is free of charge from Google, although data charges by phone carriers may apply for downloading lots of mobile e-mail.