September 5, 2007 “If your PDA or Smartphone downloads web-pages faster than the PocketSurfer, you get a free PocketSurfer.” It's a brave challenge but one that the distributors of PocketSurfer 2 were happy to stand behind at the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, Germany’s IFA 2007. We’re not aware of anyone who’s taken a prize home yet – please let us know if you saw any device beat this one for speed. The PocketSurfer 2 is tiny, fits in a shirt pocket and for the price (EUR 230 - US$310), you can overlook a few of the device's less than premium features such as the screen.

The PocketSurfer 2 is a dedicated handheld web surfing device with a 640 x 240 colour widescreen display and a QWERTY keyboard. It sells in the UK for around £180, which includes a year’s worth of limited wireless web access over a GPRS connection that offers excellent coverage and, in combination with Datawind’s acceleration technology, actually delivers data significantly faster than the majority of 3G devices – hence the download speed challenge. We’re talking megabytes in seconds – that sort of fast. Apparently the bulk of the speed is achieved by pre-compressing the Web content at the Datawind servers before it’s sent – either way, it’s very, very quick.

In a world of portable device convergence, you need a very good argument to justify the purchase of a dedicated device like this. The PocketSurfer’s proposition is simple – phones and PDAs currently deliver a quasi-internet experience that’s of little use or interest to many users because it’s so slow and pages are packed into such tiny screens that they’re ugly and hard to use. And although few pages these days are designed to be narrow enough to be fully sideways rendered on the PocketSurfer’s 640px-wide screen, it certainly delivers a more familiar and accessible Web experience than the phones.

The thumb-operated backlit QWERTY keyboard might take some getting used to, and you can really only expect so much out of the directional mouse-pointer pad, but such are the compromises when you’re dealing with portable devices.

The first PocketSurfer device left many cold – it was simply a Bluetooth device that used a mobile phone’s Web connection to download and display data. The latest version is an all-in-one web surfing package with a built-in antenna and access contract: 20 hours of surfing a month for 40 quid a year, the first year of which is built into the contract.

Spec-wise, the company is being coy – we know it has a 5-hour usage life (or 5 days standby) from its Li-Polymer battery, that it has an inbuilt GPS unit, POP/IMAP/Web mail support (including attachments), Instant Messaging and a Web browser that supports HTML and Java – but what browser? What sort of processor? Memory?

All applications on the PocketSurfer are Web-based – which means there’s no synching of calendars or emails to be done, as they’re all directly hosted online anyway. A supplied application lets you access your PC from the road once it’s set up. The browser handles secure transactions just fine, so banking and online purchases should be fine. It won’t play YouTube videos or other Flash-based content, and it has no sound, so it’s more an information tool than an entertainment device… At least, this time around.

In the wash, the PocketSurfer 2 looks like a decent compromise between the portability of a PDA/phone and the actual Web useability of a small laptop. The pricing makes it fairly accessible, and the Web-anywhere GPRS access contract makes it a pretty handy tool and is perhaps one of the first true "web in your pocket" experiences. Is it worth adding another portable device to your PDA, phone, camera and iPod? What do you think?

The PocketSurfer distributors are seeking worldwide distributors and resellers.

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