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DataWind PocketSurfer review: DataWind PocketSurfer

The PocketSurfer brings the World Wide Web right into the palm of your hands, but that's all it does. Is it worth the cost, or should you just stick with your phone or PDA? Read on to find out.

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
3 min read
DataWind PocketSurfer
The DataWind PocketSurfer isn't exactly a PDA, nor is it a cell phone. It's more along the lines of the Cingular Ogo or the Nokia N770: a one-trick handheld whose sole purpose is to bring the World Wide Web into the palm of your hand. It works by using your Bluetooth-enabled phone (if you don't have one, DataWind sells Bluetooth adapters for $30) as a modem to connect to the Net. While it does this well, you may be asking yourself, why buy another device when a handheld or a smart phone can do the same job and more? It's the same question we asked ourselves, especially since the PocketSurfer costs $199 plus a $10 monthly fee from DataWind on top of your carrier's service charges. (DataWind charges the additional fee since Web pages first go through its servers so that they can be compressed for faster delivery to the device.) However, we know that some of you want to keep your devices simple. If you want one that will only surf the Web, the PocketSurfer should meet your needs.

The slim and light DataWind PocketSurfer (6.0 by 3.0 by 0.6 inches; 5.9 ounces) will have no problem slipping into your briefcase or purse, but what worries us is its plastic construction. During our test period, the device suffered a number of scratches, and we're not sure it would survive a drop. At the very least, we suggest you invest in some kind of protective case. In addition, when we tried to attach the Bluetooth adapter to a test phone, one of the side release keys broke off--oops.


DataWind PocketSurfer

The Good

Built-in QWERTY keyboard and cursor-control pad; VGA-width screen; slim.

The Bad

Flimsy construction; washed-out screen.

The Bottom Line

While the DataWind PocketSurfer does what it's supposed to, a cell phone, a PDA, or a smart phone can do the same job and more.

Once you open the handheld, you'll find a spacious 5.3-inch (diagonal) screen and a QWERTY keyboard. Strangely, when you open the device, the keyboard is on the top cover, and the screen is on the bottom, so you have to turn it around to use the device properly--more a peculiarity than an inconvenience. Also, the display is so top-heavy that it lifts the keyboard slightly when placed on a flat surface, making it difficult to type. It's easiest if you hold the PocketSurfer in your hand and use it that way. The keys are spacious and have a nice tactile feel to them. In addition, there are shortcut buttons on the left side, such as Home, Refresh, and Back, and a cursor-control pad on the bottom-right corner. Unfortunately, the keys aren't backlit, so that'll curb your late-night Web surfing. As far as other controls go, there's a power button and a small LED (for power and battery status) on the left spine and a charger/data port along the top. The PocketSurfer ships with only a charger.

Aside from the aforementioned broken adapter, setup with a Bluetooth phone was easy. We paired the DataWind PocketSurfer with the Sony Ericsson T616 on Cingular's network. Web pages, even on graphics-intensive sites, loaded swiftly. It would have been better if the handheld's screen were brighter. Though it displays 65,000 colors, it still appeared washed out, and it got worse in direct sunlight. We were also able to access Web-based e-mail accounts, such as Hotmail and Yahoo, and used the keyboard to happily type away messages. The PocketSurfer's battery life is rated for five hours (with the screen set at brightness level of 10).


DataWind PocketSurfer

Score Breakdown

Design 4Features 5Performance 6