Review: DataWind PocketSurfer 2

Review: DataWind PocketSurfer 2
Review: DataWind PocketSurfer 2

A few years ago in Canada, someone had the interesting idea of making the Internet available to people by use of a shell. Instead of requiring a full fledged computer, you could open up a small device that would connect to servers using the already available mobile connections and give you Internet access. And not just any Internet access but free Internet access.

When you factor in the idea that to connect to the web, you need a computer, a modem or router, and then the connection itself, the prospect of "free Internet" is pretty appealing.

Fast forward to today and we're now seeing the realisation of that dream with the Australian release of the PocketSurfer 2 from DataWind.

Now what we're looking at is a kind of a strange device in that it's very similar to a handheld computer because it has a keyboard, screen, and other facilities. But the PocketSurfer 2 is very different to a HandHeld PC because unlike its cousins, it doesn't actually have a proper operating system or any real applications. What it actually does is use the software on the device to connect to a server all the way on the other side of the world in Canada and using a terminal to surf the web.

The chequebook-sized device with a Motorola Razr inspired keyboard is therefore quite easy to use straight out of the box and the only setup that's really required is a level of user registration to put yourself on their network. Once connected, using the GPRS connection can yield any webpage you can think of without being deterred by what normally holds pocket surfing back: the problem of the browser not being developed enough or able to handle something as simple as stylesheets. This is because DataWind have gone for a device that literally uses Internet Explorer, so many of the problems with webpage incompatibility existing on the web literally gets thrown out the window.

It is however a shame then that there are some issues holding this back.

The first complaint I'd have would be the keypad. Provided tactile feedback isn't a big deal to you and you're already accustomed to the noiseless sensitivity that some devices display, the only keyboard issue you have to put up with is finding a comfortable way to hold the PocketSurfer while typing.

But if you're like me and you're used to being able to push buttons in and feeling something respond to your touch, the PocketSurfer 2 starts to fall down. It isn't the most responsive keyboard and while some of they keys have a nice level of tactile feedback, others just don't. Buttons like the space bar which really are a required thing to press really don't have any feedback whatsoever making typing more like a test in how much attention you're paying to the screen as you type.

Part of the keypad is the mouse and while you might not normally think a mouse could have a problem, the PocketSurfer's mouse is a small four-way directional pad like older video game systems have had except designed like the rest of the keypad. As a result, navigating through pages on a screen with a 640x240 screen resolution just isn't fun.

Another issue that you might find with the PocketSurfer is the experience in using it. It might seem strange to note but while I wouldn't normally consider my regular web browsing habit "fun" per se, I would definitely say that I enjoyed it less on the PocketSurfer.

While you can use the PocketSurfer's homepage to do things like write & check email, use instant messaging, and look up directions in Google Maps, you're likely to find that these actions which are typing dependent are hampered by the one line of text you can type in on the PocketSurfer before it lets you type something else. I'm actually surprised the one line of text wasn't replaced with some form of caching and memory system in development or at least when it hit prototype stage as it's really a part of the PocketSurfer which is too hard not to complain about.

In the end, I'm not sure about the PocketSurfer. I was really enthusiastic the moment I got the email about it. I then researched the device and worked out how it worked and loved the idea. I still love the concept and idea of how the PocketSurfer works.

I did try to like the PocketSurfer, I really did. I took it everywhere I went and tried to make it fit into my lifestyle. I explained how it worked to people and I still love the idea of it. Sadly though, it doesn't work very well for people like me at this point in time. I can see some people liking it and using it, say business-people not fond of carrying a full-size laptop with them on business trips or people on vacation who just want to be able to access email and IM whenever it suits them.

But until the PocketSurfer 2 has some of its issues ironed out, I can't really see it becoming a part of my life. The idea is great, but the device will have to be much better than what it is in version 3.

Should you buy it?: No. Maybe when the PocketSurfer 3 comes out - if it comes out - but no.

Product: DataWind PocketSurfer 2

Vendor: DataWind

RRP: $399

Website: DataWind PocketSurfer 2

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