PocketSurfer2 handheld promises fast and free mobile web access

If we asked you to name a handheld which used centralised servers as the go-between to send compressed data from the Internet to your handheld and gave you the hint that the device was produced by a Canadian company we reckon you’d guess the BlackBerry. And you’d be wrong.

Well yes the BlackBerry does do all that for email. But now there’s a Canuck copycat applying the same model to the Web.

Quick on the draw: the slim PocketSurfer2 may use the GSM phone network but it’s claimed to be the world’s fastest mobile web device thanks to server-side compression which sits between you and the Web

Montreal-based DataWind’s slim PocketSurfer2 handheld which makes its Australian debut next week shuttles your page requests and the resulting Web content through its servers where the data is heavily compressed before making the final journey over the GPRS-enhanced GSM network. (Unlike the BlackBerry however the slim PocketSurfer2 doesn’t include a mobile phone).

Despite that server stop-over the company claims the compression boosts wireless Web access “by a factor of more than 10x” compared to native GPRS speeds – hence its claim to being “the fastest mobile Web access device in the world”.

Users see the Web page delivered onto the PocketSufer2’s 5.2in 640 x 240 VGA colour screen in its original layout and graphics with support for Java and AJAX.

How well this approach works  in real life remains to be seen. Overseas reviews have been mixed: some praise the device for its speed compared to a standard GSM connection others say the server’s intervention makes Web browsing a frustrating stop-start experience.

The device also sports in some appealing extras such as a slab of online file storage the option to remotely access your PC and live links to the Zoho suite of online office and organisational note-taking tools.

The PocketSurfer2’s other drawcard is that Datawind picks up the tab for your airtime and data so you don’t have to pay anything above the initial cost of the device itself – which is £179 in the UK where the device was launched a few months back indicating a local figure in the ballpark of $450-$499.

However the UK model also applies a fair usage limit of 20 hours per month with heavy-duty users able to upgrade to a truly unlimited package for £5.99 ($14) per month. The free access plan is valid for only the first year after which customers must pony up £40 ($94) per annum to remain on the standard 20 hour per month plan or keep chowing down on unlimited mobile megabytes for £72 ($169) per year.

The UK plan also sets up an international roaming fee of £15 ($35) per hour. We’ll know the full roster of Australian costs after next Wednesday’s launch which is being supported by the Canadian Consulate General and held at the Sydney consular office.