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DataWind PocketSurfer Review
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DataWind PocketSurfer Review

By - Posted May 03, 2005

Company: DataWind
Price: $199 plus $9.99 per month
Availability: Now

Rating:

Pros: Authentic website reproduction; Supports many Web technologies;
Cons: Device Feels Flimsy; Terrible Display; Support Problems

Surfing the real web on a cell phone is near impossible even with the most advanced smartphones. Slow data rates, small displays, and limited browser capabilities make the experience less than convenient, with many sites unrecognizable. The PocketSurfer from DataWind hopes to change your wireless web experience, once you get everything set up, that is.

The Real Web

The PocketSurfer isn't a standalone wireless device, but relies on your cell phone to access the internet. You'll need a Bluetooth enabled phone for the PocketSurfer to access your cell phone’s data capabilities. If you don't have a Bluetooth phone, DataWind offers adapters for a variety of models for $29.99. The adapters won't add universal Bluetooth capability to your phone, just connectivity to the PocketSurfer.

With PocketSurfer, you'll get a large 640 by 240 pixel display making it ideal for viewing websites. You'll need to scroll frequently to view lengthy pages, but it's wide enough to capture a substantial portion of a site.  Compared to cell phones or even PDA's, the screen layout alone made the surfing experience far more user friendly.

You'll get support for XHTML, SSL, CSS, Javascript, and a host of other Web technologies, so your surfing session isn't limited. Sites like Yahoo!, CNN, CNET, and G4TV appeared without issue, the way their designers intended. Pop-ups are supported too for sites that require them for things like login prompts. Surprisingly, complex Flash sites like Mini USA remained usable. Though it lacks the animation and audio, I was still able the browse the site. DataWind's backend server essentially captures frames from Flash sites and transfers them as regular sites.

For the convenience of surfing the real Web on the go, you'll need to carry a device measuring 5.98 by 2.97 by 0.58 inches and weighing 5.9 ounces. It's a tad large for carrying on an evening out, but no problem for the briefcase.

Speedy?

DataWind claims that most sites will download in 5 to 7 seconds, but in my tests it ranged between 10 to 30 seconds with my slow AT&T Wireless GPRS connection. When I say download, I mean the time it takes to fill the screen. DataWind servers transmit the area you're viewing first for the perception of speed, so it's impossible to tell how long it would take for an entire site to load. Your experience may vary depending on the speed of your network.

Backend servers optimize sites before delivering content to the PocketSurfer by lowering graphics resolution, data compression, and a host of other tricks to minimize the amount of data to download. In the end, it feels a lot faster than the speed of your actual connection.

Not Perfect

The PocketSurfer isn't a perfect device, but a better proof of concept. The transflective display washes out colors and strips the vibrancy out of most websites. There's noticeable banding on the display as well. And the keyboard is ample, but feels flimsy and fragile much like the rest of the device.

The fundamental problem with buying a product that relies on your cell phone is the support. Who's responsible for getting the PocketSurfer to work? Is it the service? The phone? Or the PocketSurfer? For me, it started with AT&T Wireless, an immensely complex data service plan (and ridiculously priced), and customer support staff that didn't understand the meaning of data. Three calls to AT&T Wireless and two calls to DataWind later the PocketSurfer remained useless. It turned out the Sony Ericsson S710a and the PocketSurfer just didn't care for each other. With the Motorola RAZR V3, I was setup and running in only a few minutes. So make sure the PocketSurfer plays nice with your cell phone.

The Bottom Line

Is the PocketSurfer worth it? The device costs $199 plus $9.99 a month for DataWind's service. Let's not forget the cost of data service from your service provider and they may not even allow tethering devices like the PocketSurfer to the network. There are lots of questions you have to ask yourself.

DataWind, no doubt, has great technology for bringing the real Web to a mobile device and my experience was definitely positive.  After years of surfing on cell phones, smart phones, and PDA's, DataWind shed light on how poorly those devices actually perform with the Web.

But the hardware desperately needs sexing up and support is a real problem. You're pretty much on your own getting everything working.  Only the tech-savvy, Web obsessed and exceedingly patient need apply.

 

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