Lean, mean surfing machine

February 10, '09; BANGALORE:

Anand Parthasarathy on DataWind's PocketSurfer2, brought to India by HCL and touted as the world's fastest handheld Internet device:

Last week's fiasco of an official government announcement about a so-called $ 10 (or was it $ 20?) "Made in India laptop" has turned large swathes of the global media, into cynical debunkers of Indian claims in the device space. A work in progress towards an eventual Internet access device for students has been throttled at birth by premature, tall claims, unsupported by genuine prototypes or even reference designs.

While we wait for them to get their act together and produce few working units backed by full specs, let's look at a hand held Internet access device that is more believably priced and actually does what it claims.

HCL has brought to India the PocketSurfer 2, a small handheld device that weighs just 174 grams and in look and feel is not very different from the Nokia communicator and similar chunky smart phones (though much thinner, at 1.5 centimeters) , with flip tops and full qwerty keyboards. It is designed in Canada by DataWind and has been around worldwide for more than a year now.

The PS2 uses GPRS (quad band) cellular networks to access the Internet and unlike many smart phones (including the iPhone) assures full web functionality with all the graphics.

It springs to life in 5-7 seconds and claims to provide Net access faster than most 3G -based phones and devices. This it achieves by using a web-based operating system with a back-end accelerator at its dedicated server.

The backlit qwerty keyboard has some extra keys, mostly short cuts for browsing and email and the 640 by 240 LCD display is about 7 inches across. One useful feature is the built-in GPS, so useful these days for location sensitive information.

We found the surfing experience to be quite as zippy as claimed -- much faster than what you get in India from the add on wireless data cards for laptops.

The asking price of Rs 11,990 (all inclusive) provides 35 hours of surfing per month for the first year. If you want unlimited surfing, you have to pay an additional Rs 99 per month. After the first year, the annual charge is Rs 999 for the average usage and you can upgrade this for unlimited usage on the same (Rs 99 per month) terms.

From the positioning it would seem the makers see customers buying the PS2 as a second device in addition to a mobile phone -- or as an alternative to the wireless data card that so many laptop users carry. If you compare the PS2's plans with what the major Indian mobile providers are asking for the data cards, the former will seem like a good deal -- ofcourse one has to factor in the initial cost ( they charge around Rs 3000 for the data cards).

Personally I am challenged by having to use small devices like smart phones or blackberries for any thing more complex than checking mail. The PS2 is decidedly more comfortable for chubby fingered people like me. If you spend a lot of time "on the hoof" and need to do a lot of web surfing while mobile, the PS2 would seem to be made for you.