Small enough to carry with you everywhere and coming with a year's free internet access, the Datawind Ubisurfer promises to be the ultimate netbook. But technology enthusiasts are likely to find it extremely frustrating.

It's two years since laptop makers started adopting the term 'netbook' and it's easy to forget how devices bearing that name were originally envisaged. Search for a netbook online and you'll find dozens of so-called mini laptops with 10in screens, 1GB of RAM and running fully fledged versions of Windows. These cost anything up to £400 and if you want to use them to access the web, you need to either find a Wi-Fi network, or pay a small fortune for a mobile broadband subscription.

But, like Asus's original Eee PC 701, in our view netbooks we were supposed to be smaller than traditional ultraportable business machines, with a maximum display size of 7in, lightweight applications and a way to access the web cheaply. With this in mind, could Datawind's Ubisurfer be the first netbook that's worthy of the term?

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Datawind is the Canadian company behind the PocketSurfer, the £199 handheld internet access device that's available with a year's ‘free' internet access via the UK's 2/2.5G cellular network. The Ubisurfer works in the same way. It comes with its own SIM card and included in the £160 price are 30 hours of internet usage per month for the first year. So, once you've bought the hardware, you can browse the web more or less at will without paying another penny for 12 months.

Weighing just 700g, the Ubisurfer measures 222mm x 165mm x 29.5mm and, as a portable internet-access device, it looks the part. It's built into a no-nonsense, but smart black case, and the keyboard is small but perfectly formed.

Ubisurfer keyboard

For basic web surfing, the Ubisurfer did the job. Provided you're within reach of a signal, you can browse the web to your heart's content - we don't think the 30 hours-per-month limit will be a problem for most users. Unlimited connectivity is available for an extra £5.99 per month.

Furthermore, the basic productivity apps that come pre-loaded with the Ubisurfer - including the AbiWord word processor, the Gnumeric spreadsheet application and the Gpaint design software - could come in handy if you're desperate and need a trimmed-down substitute for your preferred office apps.

NEXT: advanced use >>

Small enough to carry with you everywhere and coming with a year's free internet access, the Datawind Ubisurfer promises to be the ultimate netbook. But technology enthusiasts are likely to find it extremely frustrating.

Datawind Ubisurfer: frustration

But for more advanced use, the Ubisurfer is frustrating. An instant-on internet terminal this is not; it takes 90 seconds to boot up, and then another minute or so to connect to the web for the first time.

On startup you're presented with Datawind's Ubisurfer home page, which provides links to News, Weather, Sports, Email, SMS, instant messaging and a number of web pages providing information about local services. Datawind claims web pages load in just 7 seconds depending on network coverage and the size of the web page. But larger pages can take 1 minute.

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And while Datawind promises "ubiquitous" network coverage in the UK, we found some places where you can't rely on fast web browsing. On one train journey, page loads slowed to a crawl.

Datawind Unisurfer

Furthermore, if you ever need to type into a field online - when inputting your user name and password to access a webmail account, for example - the Ubisurfer can be extremely clunky. Responsiveness is painfully slow; when you hit tab to move to the next field, for example, it takes several seconds for the cursor to move and what you've just written in the first field seems to disappear while Ubisurfer works out its next move. Furthermore, if you ever need to use a drop-down box - when entering your birth year online, for example - be prepared for another frustrating time.

You can tap on the touchpad to click on links but it can be overly sensitive, and you may find yourself unintentionally selecting pages and wondering how you got there.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Datawind UbiSurfer: Specs

  • 7in TFT (800x480 pixels), 128MB RAM
  • 1GB Flash
  • 50GB Online
  • Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g
  • Ethernet Port 10MB
  • Microphone and dual stereo sound earphone jacks
  • Battery - 4 hours active use & 4 hours standby
  • 222x165x29.5mm
  • 700g
  • Push-Push SD card socket
  • 3x USB ports
  • DataWind Web Browser
  • Calendar
  • Media Player
  • XIP Office (Word processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation)PDF Viewer
  • Email
  • Paint
  • Games
  • 7in TFT (800x480 pixels), 128MB RAM
  • 1GB Flash
  • 50GB Online
  • Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g
  • Ethernet Port 10MB
  • Microphone and dual stereo sound earphone jacks
  • Battery - 4 hours active use & 4 hours standby
  • 222x165x29.5mm
  • 700g
  • Push-Push SD card socket
  • 3x USB ports
  • DataWind Web Browser
  • Calendar
  • Media Player
  • XIP Office (Word processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation)PDF Viewer
  • Email
  • Paint
  • Games

OUR VERDICT

We’re not technology snobs – there is a market for a low-end netbook that provides access to the web and little else for £160, and the Ubisurfer could suit an inexperienced user. But the Ubisurfer makes too many sacrifices at this stage for us to recommend it.

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