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Pogo: better than WAP or just as cwap?

Maybe, just maybe

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You may have heard of it, the Pogo - it's a mobile phone with email, messaging, content, diary, music and Internet browsing capabilities and it works over your bog-standard GSM network. Its catchline: "Why wait for 3G?"

That's what it has claimed for the last year anyway. So, seeing as it has just signed a distribution deal with Carphone Warehouse and plans to start selling the device in the new year, we decided it was about time we found out whether it really existed and, more importantly, whether it did what it said on the tin.

It does exist. And rather nice it is to. It's bigger than a Palm, smaller than an iPaq - a good handful. It just fits into your pocket but does bulge. It weighs about the same as a normal-size mobile and it looks like this:

The Pogo. Although it's bigger than the picture claims

The Pogo we saw - which is still a prototype, albeit it an advanced one - is bigger than the picture suggests and a bit bulkier but still very handleable. The four corners contain: the stylus (which slides in rather nicely), the aerial, a charging socket and an on/off switch.

Resident gadget freak Tony Smith also had a look and he's done a technical review of it here, so with this story we aim to resolve the question: is Pogo the answer to the mobile gap that exists between and now and the arrival of 3G in 2004 - the gap that was supposed to be filled by WAP?

Pogo will be for sale "exclusively" in Carphone Warephone from January this year (CW gets to decide when it starts selling it). This is because the big mobile operators have turned Pogo down. Why? The issue is too complex to do anything but idly speculate.

Nevertheless, Pogo has done well to sign up with Carphone Warehouse, which is the most respected of all mobile phone shops in the UK. We were assured that the exclusive contract was for months rather than years - which is in both companies' interests but also demonstrates that CW is not certain the Pogo will take off.

And one major reason why it won't is because of the price. Carephone warehouse is not a mobile operator and so it will not subsidise the Pogo. The Pogo will set you back £299 - which is simply too much. (Initially, Pogo had hoped that a big company would follow the usual pattern of subsidising new phones and it would come in at between £100 and £200.)

Then there's a £7.99 monthly connection charge and a 10p per minute call charge (done through One2One). This will prove very costly if people run it all the time, on top of their normal mobile, but as marketing director Tim Critchley told us: "This is not for use all day, it's for people to grab snippets of info."

The Pogo is what everyone pretended WAP would be - new Internet technologies put onto a phone. But it's more expensive that a phone and less practical than a PDA. So who will buy it? "Gadget guys, people who know about the Web, teenagers, students."

Mr Critchley agreed entirely with our basic summary of the Pogo's business chances. You've basically got two years to make a recognised brand in the market, we told him, if you don't pull it off by then, 3G will step and the Pogo will vanish [as many good technology ideas have over the years]. "Two years is a good timespan for any mobile product," he retorted. "But yes, we have two years. And if it takes off in that time, then we will take the next step up with a new product."

Fair enough. But will it take off? Well, it's a good bit of kit. We like it. It runs off a proprietary OS and browser. The OS needs to be speeded up, especially the keyboard. We couldn't test the browser because we couldn't get a strong enough signal (obviously a worry). It's simple, it's stylish, it's a product "for disorganised people".

But it is too bulky to be a practical alternative to a mobile phone (and doesn't have buttons - buttons are very important). As such, it won't replace people's mobiles and so will need to run alongside them.

Tony and myself were more or less agreed - if it cost £150 and £10 a month for lengthy Internet access, messaging etc, with phone calls at normal price, we'd be tempted. Until it reaches this level in terms of cost though (it has one-and-a-half years), the Pogo will struggle to survive. ®

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