There must be something about living in a really cold country (such as, say, Canada) that prompts geeks to fiddle around with data compression techniques. We're not just throwing that theory out randomly here; the world's best known compression company (when it comes to email), RIM, is based in Canada. Datawind, makers of the PocketSurfer 2, are similarly of a far North American bent, but their particular gig isn't optimal email delivery, but web page compression. Their entry product into the Australian market is the PocketSurfer 2, a slim fold out web terminal that fits into your pocket.
With its lid closed, the PocketSurfer2 somewhat resembles the newer, slimmer Playstation Portable console. It measures in at 15.24x7.56x1.52cm and weighs a scant 174 grams. Opening it up reveals an entirely flat keyboard with directional controls in the bottom right hand corner. Aside from a mini-USB terminal, hidden under a rubber flap -- presumably as something has to keep the snow out -- that's your lot for physical details.
The big hook with the AU$399 PocketSurfer 2 is the offer of free Internet access. How have Datawind managed this particular trick? Basically, they've taken a slow and cheap data technology -- GPRS -- and applied compression techniques to web pages to make them fit the PocketSurfer 2's display screen. Datawind's claim is that it can render web pages this way in under 7 seconds, which is faster than we'd expect out of a paltry GPRS connection -- especially when you consider that, like mail going through a Blackberry, data going to the PocketSurfer 2 has to route its way via Canada before it's presented to your eyes.
The PocketSurfer also includes an embedded email client and GPS functionality. The display is relatively low resolution at only 640x240. Datawind claims the battery life as being good for around 5 hours of surfing time or five days worth of standby time.
So far, so good -- we love the idea of a free Web service, especially in the data-constrained Australian broadband market. There's only one major fly in the ointment here -- actually using the PocketSurfer 2 is an exercise in testing your patience, or alternatively, your frustration levels.