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Datawind PocketSurfer 2 handheld web browser

Mobile internet for free - or just like the proverbial lunch?

First look Canadian company Datawind unveiled its second-generation PocketSurfer handheld gadget for web browsing, and while its pledge that the device brings with it fast wireless access for free stretches the meaning of the word, it comes pretty close.

Datawind PocketSurfer 2
Datawind's PocketSurfer 2: eBay on the move?

First, the hardware. The PocketSurfer 2 is a slim 174g clamshell device not unlike a Nokia Communicator. Clad in shiny black plastic - perfect for presenting fingerprints, alas - with a chrome-like hinge, the device measures 15.2 x 7.5 x 1.5cm when closed.

Opening it reveals the (weakly) backlit 640 x 420 display and a flat QWERTY keypad that's not touch-sensitive but simply mounted above an array of contacts. While that's not a problem when it comes to entering website addresses, it does make navigating around the page more clumsy than it could be. More of which later.

The unit accesses the cellular network directly over a GPRS link, and here the PocketSurfer 2's hardware starts to blend into Datawind's service. First, the network. We understand Datawind's working through Orange, but it's operating as a virtual network so the user has no direct connection to the carrier. If Datawind can get a better deal from, say, O2, it'll shift accordingly and the PocketSurfer 2 users need be none the wiser. The gadget's SIM is embedded right inside the handheld, so it can't be removed, Datawind said.

When it goes on sale in the UK in early August, the PocketSurfer 2 will retail for £180. That includes 20 hours a month's surfing free of charge. Bust the limit and you'll be allowed to surf no more until the following month unless you avail yourself of Datawind's £6-a-month unlimited access package, 'fair use' policy attached.

Datawind PocketSurfer 2
Datawind's PocketSurfer 2: slimline surfing

So yes, once you've coughed up for the hardware, surfing comes for free in the first year, provided you stay within the 20-hour limit. In year two, Datawind will expect a further one-off payment, though as yet it can't say how much that will be. No more than £40, it promised, hinting at the potential to go lower if it makes sufficient money from sponsored links - it's other key revenue source - and signs up plenty of punters.

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