PocketSurfer2 review: PocketSurfer 2

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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.

Firstly, there's the keyboard. It's entirely flat, rather unresponsive, and uses a number of weird key conventions for Web surfing that take quite a while to become native responses. Then there's the low resolution screen, which, to put it politely, is going to send a lot of work to your optometrist if you stare at it for too long. Clearly, part of the speed caching that Datawind does is to strip out a lot of colour that the PocketSurfer 2 can't handle. Nice in theory, but the effect is to deliver web pages that look washed out, and text that is often far too small and simultaneously blurry to actually read.

Then there's the speed issue. Yes, the PocketSurfer 2 is quicker than you might expect a GPRS connection to be. It's just that unless you're surfing very popular pages, they've still got to be cached, and you can generally forget about getting sites in the claimed seven second time frame. Even when you do, we often found the PocketSurfer 2 -cheating", by only grabbing and rendering the first couple of screen depth's worth of content. Scroll down too far, and you've got to do the whole cache waiting dance again.

Finally, there's the issue of the definition of -free". Firstly, it's only -free" for the first year. Second up, it's only -free" for up to twenty hours per month. We can't imagine staring at the PocketSurfer 2 for twenty hours without starting to go blind, but even so, if you do want or need lots of access, you'll have to pay for it -- currently AU$9.99 for 50 hours or AU$19.99 for unlimited use. After the first year, the basic twenty hours package will cost you no more than AU$50/year. It's not that these are unreasonable basic data charges per se; it's just that there's a distance between what you might expect for -free" and what you actually get, and it's worth knowing that upfront.

Ultimately, the idea behind the PocketSurfer 2 is much better than the implementation. It works well enough in a basic GPRS sense, but the terrible screen, multi-page loading times and not-exactly-free structure make it a hard sell, especially as it's such a one-trick pony. For not much more money you could buy a much more capable Eee PC, or even a budget brand-name notebook PC.

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