Datawind PocketSurfer2 review

Price when reviewed

This is a preview of the PocketSurfer. To see the up-to-date review, click here.

The PocketSurfer2 is touted as a mobile browsing device, which can serve up the ‘real web’ from anywhere with mobile phone reception. Essentially it’s a widescreen mobile phone which can’t make calls or send SMS messages – its built in SIM card is used only to connect to the GPRS network and serve web pages.

Included in the price is a year of network connection, allowing 20 hours of surfing per month. A £40 payment is necessary 12 months after purchase if you want to keep using the service, which is almost compulsory, as the device will only work with the assistance of Datawind’s servers. Unlimited surfing is an additional extra, costing an extra £6 per month.

The hardware

The hardware itself is a very solid device, but its hard plastic does feel quite brittle – and we suspect a drop onto a hard surface could prove catastrophic. It’s attractive and minimally designed, bar the bright blue, green and red LEDs on the lid, which serve no purpose.

The only actual buttons are all positioned on the QWERTY keypad, which should be familiar to anyone who has ever used a Motorola RAZR. However, the width makes it hard to reach the centre keys with your thumbs when holding the device by its sides.

The only other physical features are two rubber flaps. One opens to reveal a mini USB port, also used to charge the device, but the other hides nothing but a hole in the casing. Datawind tell us that future models may have a memory card situated here.

The software

In use, the operating system is almost entirely hidden from the user. The menu system is simply a website hosted on Datawind’s US servers which is loaded up during boot.

The main menu screen presents several icons such as search, news, email, word processing and instant messaging. However, each one of these simply redirects to a third party web service. Selecting SMS takes you to and word processing takes you to an online document editor, which didn’t work when using our review unit.

A header is persistent at the top of the screen, which occupies around 10% of the screen’s height. Unfortunately it’s only used for a battery and GSM indicator, plus a large PocketSurfer logo. That leaves the already small 640 x 240 resolution very cramped, and scrolling vertically when reading websites is a constant job.

In use

That’s made even worse by having travel to the edge of the screen to scroll. To move right, you need to go all the way over to the right hand edge, then go all the way back to the left again to see the left side. On sites with text that wraps, this can become frustrating – moving the site directly with the arrow keys would make more sense.

There’s vertical banding present on the screen too, leaving vertical ghosts of website elements on the screen. The cursor is also difficult to control, jumping a few pixels with each key press. With smaller menu items, such as the page numbers for results in Google, this sometimes makes it hard to select the right option.

Although the pre-release model we tested didn’t have the feature, the final version will include a GPS chip which could prove useful along with universal access to sites such as Google Maps. There’s also a dedicated button on the keypad to launch this feature.

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