The final build of Datawind's much-anticipated PocketSurfer2 has made its way to PC Advisor Towers for an exclusive first review. We've just spent an hour or two giving the Datawind PocketSurfer2 a try and we're pleased to say the portable web-surfing device looks like living up to at least some of its hype.
The basic premise has always been sound: the PocketSurfer2 is a truly portable device that you can buy off the shelf for £179 inc VAT. You can then enjoy proper internet access – real web pages rather than indifferently optimised WAP pages – without incurring hefty data charges. The most it will cost you to be online each month with the PocketSurfer2 is £5.99.
Whether or not you find using the PocketSurfer2 above and beyond the 20 hours a month that the initial purchase price includes remains to be seen, however.
The PocketSurfer2 accesses the web via GPRS (general packet radio service). It's the same technology that the BlackBerry used and that promptly shook up the way business users kept in touch and got online on the move.
While Datawind would no doubt love to make even a very small ripple along these lines, our first impression is that the PocketSurfer2 doesn't have the design appeal or the intuitiveness of the BlackBerry. But if you need mobile web access for a fixed price, the PocketSurfer2 may just be the sort of product you've been waiting for.
GPRS is still around – not least in current BlackBerry handsets – but the push from 2.5G to 3G and HSDPA (high speed data packet access) means few of the latest web-enabled mobile phone handsets rely on GPRS. The speed at which you can access the web isn't a problem with the PocketSurfer2, though.
Datawind’s servers push web pages you request to the PocketSurfer2 device. Web page content is compressed by a factor of up to 30 thanks to some clever algorithms that prioritise straight text page elements and shrink down images. This, the company says, enables it to provide 'pocket broadband access' and keep data costs down.
When the PocketSurfer2 first starts up, the GPRS service is activated and the device performs a 'handshake' with the server to check on password and log on. After 15 or 20 seconds, the main PocketSurfer2 screen appears. (You may need to press a button to get the screen to light up as it is very dark and is set to have the backlight come on only momentarily when the device is idle – a good powersaver.)
Options to upload items to the free 25GB online storage vault Datawind supplies with the PocketSurfer2, to access a PC remotely and to create word processed or spreadsheet documents are offered on the lefthand side. Email, IM and links to items such as news, sport and stock information, weather forecast (the Met Office website), train timetables and a search tool make up the central pane. Google Maps shows your current location in another pane further to the right of the screen.
There's something missing among this selection, though: a browser icon. We were surprised to find that the prominent onscreen items do not include an internet access option, given that this is what most people will have bought the PocketSurfer2 for.
Selecting any of the onscreen items and negotiating your way around the PocketSurfer2 itself is not as easy as it might be. Using the four-way navipad at the bottom right to move the cursor across the 640x240-pixel screen can be extremely slow.
Thankfully, the selection of quick access keys running down the PocketSurfer2's lefthand side helps ease things greatly.
For most purposes, the PocketSurfer2's GO button is the one you need. This launches the browser bar. Type in a URL and the page you want will generally be served up within a second or two. Pages are sent from a central server and are compressed en route so you get reduced graphics but quickly delivered pages. A quick access button directly beneath the Power button at the top left lets you flick between standard and fullscreen mode, the better to view items on your web pages.
Once you're at the page you need, you can quickly move around it. Whereas the zipping around accelerates during web browsing if you hold down the navipad key that correlates to the direction you want to go, you're stuck in slow-mo when navigating the device itself.
We also found it best to place the PocketSurfer2 flat on a desk or other hard surface while tapping away at the qwerty keyboard buttons. The PocketSurfer2 's keyboard bears more than a passing resemblance to that of a Motorola Razr handset with angular slashes between keys. Unfortunately, this device's keyboard flexes in much the same way as the original Razr phone, too.
We were able to view the static and fairly clean pages of the PC Advisor website with no trouble. Due to the compression, images within web pages are displayed at what looks like a fairly poor resolution. But this is not a problem if you're after online information and connectivity. Surprisingly, you're not especially hobbled by the PocketSurfer's compression algorithms if you want to make use of Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook or YouTube, though.
We were able to view a Facebook profile, tag photos and update comments and were even able to play a YouTube video though, of course, there's no audio output on this 174g device, as it probably wouldn’t work that well with the data compression required to deliver web pages at speed. We can't comment on battery life at this stage, since we’ve yet to receive the retail version of the PocketSurfer2, but its makers claim five hours of active use between charges.