DataWind PocketSurfer


Have you ever seen a flying squirrel take to the air? They don’t really fly, they just glide for a few yards and then crash into the nearest tree. The landings are pathetic, but that’s evolution for you: It’s always coming up with custom-fit and often loopy solutions for every imaginable need. DataWind’s PocketSurfer is another such example.

If you want to surf the web on the road, but your phone doesn’t have a web browser, but you do have a data plan, and you don’t want to take a laptop with you, then the PocketSurfer is perfect for you!
Otherwise, it’s hard to say why you’d choose the PocketSurfer over a smartphone.

Yes, it’s got a much bigger screen, at 5.25-inches on the diagonal, but on the other hand, the device is 6x3-inches when folded, making it too bulky for even most jacket pockets. The exterior is silver plastic, complete with the same tacky injection-molding seam you find on squirt guns, and it scratches easily; by the end of our review period, the test unit looked like a battered checkbook.

The PocketSurfer wasn’t designed to be used on a flat surface, as the top-heavy screen portion of the device will simply fall backwards on its loose hinge. So you’ve got to hold it with both hands and use your thumbs for typing and navigation, which gets uncomfortable after 10 or 15 minutes.

The PocketSurfer doesn’t have its own wireless data service; instead, it connects to your Bluetooth-enabled phone and uses it as a modem, riding along on your wireless carrier’s data plan. If your phone doesn’t have Bluetooth, you can purchase a Bluetooth adapter for your phone from DataWind for $30 (we were even able to outfit a three year-old LG TM510).

At this point, however, you might become annoyed at the expense. Not only do you have to pony up for the PocketSurfer, a wireless data plan, and a Bluetooth adapter if your phone doesn’t have Bluetooth built-in, but also an additional $10 a month for DataWind, as all web pages are funneled through DataWind’s proxy servers for compression. Argh!

Initializing the device, connecting to the Bluetooth adapter, and completing the registration process were quick and painless processes. And once we connected our phone, the device stayed connected reliably up to four feet away. Although the screen’s resolution is 640x240, you lose some of the valuable real estate to a status indicator bar at the top.

Navigation is controlled using the four-way rocker switch; clicking links, however, requires you to take your thumb off the rocker switch and press yet another button. Regardless of our data rate, pressing this button always resulted in a two-second delay before anything happened—at least you get an hourglass icon to indicate you did press the button. The custom compression provided by DataWind’s servers and the option to reduce the display quality of images can make loading pages quite fast, but you still have to deal with the keypad delays. The screen looks dim even at high-brightness settings, and the battery lasted less than four hours on a full charge.

Smartphones and PDAs may have a limited screen area, but these devices offer plenty in return for the sacrifice (such as portability and a plethora of third-party software). The PocketSurfer reverses this deal, giving you a single strong advantage—a plenty-wide screen—while sacrificing just about everything else. But if you don’t mind a clumsy solution that’s as silly as wings on a squirrel, it does get the job done.
Logan Decker

+ SURFERS: A much wider screen than smartphones and PDAs sport.
- GRIEFERS: Expensive, bulky, and awkward to use.

Month Reviewed: October 2005
Verdict: 4

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