The PocketSurfer2 – a great tool or late to market solution?

As a professional often on the move, I am always on the look out for new technology or gadgets that will help me communicate and work remotely more easily. Courtesy of Training Journal I have been given a PocketSurfer2 from Datawind to review.

I used the device for a couple of weeks. In fact this article had been started on the PocketSurfer2. (Unfortunately I had to stop here… you will find out why later).

Overview of the PocketSurfer2
The PocketSurfer2 is a pocket diary size device with ‘instant’ mobile phone technology connection to the web. It uses a Motorola RAZR style keyboard. So anywhere you can use a mobile, this device will allow you to do most things you can do in a browser on a desk top (except flash, video and audio).

Claims
The manufactures DataWind claim that you get a ‘full’ web experience, rather than the limited experience on most mobile phones. The manufactures also claim that the surfing experience is fast – broadband speed over a GPRS phone network.
First experiences

The device arrives in a box 250 x 173 x 69mm, inside the box is a well protected (using plastic and foam) carrier for the PocketSurfer2 and its accessories.

In the box is the PocketSurfer2, mains charger (mini USB), a quick guide, a soft protective ‘sock’ and manual on CD.

Powering the PocketSurfer2 up
The device arrives with enough power to start the device and to go through a simple registration process. Throughout the registration you are shown how to navigate the various controls – the ‘mouse’, tab functions etc. the buttons on the keyboard are large enough to use your thumb. Once registered the device needs a solid 4+ hours of charging. Try to shortcut this and when you attempt to connect to the net the device tells you that your ‘registration’ is still pending and to allow up to 4 hours…

Charging the PocketSurfer2
The good news is that the device can be charged via a mini USB and a charger is supplied, unfortunately access to the USB socket is so slim that a standard mini USB charger will not fit! This means that if you have a universal car based USB charger (although some PocketSurfer units do ship with this lead) it just won’t work. It is a real shame that this is not a standard connection – forget your special lead and you cannot borrow a lead to charge your device!

Going On-Line with the PocketSurfer2
Once charged and registered it could not be easier – push the ‘Go’ button, type in the address you want and hit enter. The quick as a flash the page loads – brilliant. The graphics and text are washed out but for a basic surfing need the device is more than functional. You can change the contrast to make it a better surfing experience with clearer text and graphics – but these settings ‘drop’ and have to be reset if you turn the device off.

Getting used to the ‘mouse’ took some time. For the technical readers – this device appears to use a thin client to a secure server running IE, hence the speed and lack of clarity on the graphics. It also explains how you get ‘the full web experience’. Thin client basically means you are using the PocketSurfer2 to access a more powerful computer doing most of the work for you – all the device in your hand does is give keyboard commands and show the screen.

Most of the pages I have initially visited performed well, although the tab function does not appear reliable in moving between data fields on some sites. When I started posting this blog the input to reading on screen was very slow – correcting typing mistakes was difficult and highlighting text to insert a hyperlink was impossible (no ability to select text). Typing and correcting errors is a slow and unreliable process – as the tools for simple navigation around a text field are missing – i.e. basic arrow keys.

Email

The device has the ability to access POP3 and most other forms of email services – this provides an easier access to your emails than many phone based products.

Instant Messaging
For many this will be a welcome feature – especially those of us that want to keep in touch with our teenagers while we are away. Easy to set up but the slow nature of the keyboard makes fluent conversations difficult, although I am sure this will come with practice.

Calendars and organisers
While the device does not provide any diary type system you can access services like Yahoo Calendar as an organiser.

Added business functions

As well as basic surfing the device provides access to online secure document storage and basic applications, word processing, spreadsheets and presentation from a site zoho.com. The downside is that this device cannot connect to a printer – nor can it download data to a local memory device (i.e. USB or SD card), although the online storage will be satisfactory for many.

Use your home PC and software from anywhere
You know the situation – you are away from home and need to read THAT file… how can you do it? The PocketSurfer2 is compatible with Logmein. Logmein is a small piece of software that runs on your home PC which allows you access to your programs and document files at any time from any internet connection. I have been a user of Logmein for 4 years and it has saved my bacon on many occasions. With military level security encryption this service is fantastic and the PocketSurfer2 implementation is unfortunately of limited usability due to the screen resolution and navigation options, this is a real shame as few if any mobile phones can do satisfactorily.

GPS

The PocketSurfer2 comes with a built in GPS which links neatly to Google maps, always a useful function. Unfortunately as the PocketSurfer2 does not have a ‘contacts list’ you will need to bookmark the address previously – or have the address in another device. The GPS system is quick and will aid those on foot finding a venue at street level, however remember the system does not have any sound capability so do not expect turn by turn voice directions – This device is not suitable for use in a vehicle.

Battery Life
This is claimed at several hours and I certainly did not experience any difficulties with this even though i was using the PocketSurfer2 regularly throughout the conference.

Charges

The PocketSurfer2 is supplied with 12 months connection to the Internet with an allowance of 20 hours per month, this should be more than enough for most people. The subscription for the second years is just under £40. For an additional £5.99 per months unlimited Internet access is available.

The device in use on the road
Use of the Pocket Surfer ‘in the field’ rather than in the office on trial are different things. I had occasional difficulty connecting (something I would not usually expect in west London) and my use would be for managing my website or blogging – neither of which it did very well. I actually found it easier to use my PDA phone and stylus than the keyboard, and many modern phones, while they do not have a screen size of the PocketSurfer, do have better navigation control – right click and cli

ck and drag were difficult.

Ideal applications
One of the ‘best’ applications for the pocket surfer I can imagine is in the use of mobile survey completion – providing most of the survey is multiple choice and optimised for a 640 wide screen. Using the device for basic surfing and finding information was great – but as for actually using web based application… no not yet.

What happens when the device is lost?
Well this happened – on the last day of the CIPD annual Conference in Harrogate I took my jacket off and it must have fallen out of my inside pocket…
I did not realise until the following day but then it was the weekend. On Monday morning I called the UK helpline and after a wait was through to a very helpful lady who after taking my serial number and confirming my details stopped the device. She was able to tell me that the device had been used over the weekend, but could not or would not tell me what sites had been visited or where in the UK the device was.
Well the next time the person tries to use the device it just will not connect! This is good because if this had been a phone much of the connection data would have been available to the phone user (inc passwords) even if the sim was stopped – so from a security point of view this is a significant advantage.

The acid test
Having been given this one for review will I buy a replacement? Interesting question.. There are some things this device is particularly good at – and not so good at others. Had I lost the device 2 years ago my answer would have been a swift yes… now….. er… no I will not be buying one for myself.

Needed on PocketSurfer3

This device is usable as a tool for those that are ‘on the move’ and in many ways is better than 95% of the available mobile devices. Features that need to be included to make this a truly powerful mobile device:

  • Touch screen to operate the mouse/ or improved mouse navigation
  • An 800 pixel wide screen resolution
  • SD or USB local storage
  • Reliable ‘tabbing’ between fields on web pages
  • Standard mini USB connector for universal charging
  • Remove the PocketSurfer ‘top bar’ this uses up valuable screen space for no real functionality
  • Ability to navigate through text with basic arrow buttons
  • Video & sound through an earphone
  • Ability to store ‘user settings’ – brightness, contrast etc.

To make the device a truly ‘must have’…

  • Wi-Fi/ Bluetooth or cable for ‘monitor out’
  • Ability to ‘run’ PowerPoint slide shows

This device is not a PDA, and nor should it be – but as low cost laptops get cheaper it needs to provide a little ‘extra value’ than just a limited surfing experience.

Overall

In today’s market this product is more of a gimmick than a serious tool for the mobile professional. For its cost and Internet access it is good value for money – but is it a must have for the mobile professional? No not yet. The product is a great as a ‘get out of jail’ device when you cannot connect to the net by any other means, it will allow limited yet functional access to most sites, but if the task is too complex then this is not the solution for you.

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Mike Morrison is director of RapidBI, an organizational effectiveness consultancy. He has been involved in HR, OD and strategic development for over 20 years. He can be contacted via www.rapidbi.com/ © This article is copyright RapidBI 2006 – 2008 – it may be copied providing the authors are credited, and direct links maintained

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    The PocketSurfer2 – a great tool or late to market solution?

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