Datawind's PocketSurfer2 R is a contract-free mobile web-surfing device that works wherever there's GPRS coverage - but does nothing else.
Hardware upgrades from the original Datawind PocketSurfer2 are minimal. The PocketSurfer2's four-way navipad has gone, replaced by a touchpad - with mixed results. Moving around the PocketSurfer2 R's screen is easier, but you can't use use the touchpad to click (as you could with the PocketSurfer2). Instead you hit the arrow key, which couldn't be further away - on the opposite side of the keyboard.
Datawind also claims the PocketSurfer2 R is more robust than its predecessor. (This matters: your reviewer lost three PocketSurfer2s to hardware ailments in just 11 months.)
Is the PocketSurfer2 R tough enough? We can't say without using it for longer but, while to the uninitiated the form factor looks the same, it certainly feels sturdier. The problematic plastic hinge is now made of sterner stuff, and Datawind tells PC Advisor the PocketSurfer2 R's paint has been upgraded to make it less susceptible to peeling.
Other improvements made over the lifetime of the PocketSurfer2 include a brighter screen and better software interface. Sadly, there's still no audio. At all.
In use the PocketSurfer2 R remains a heady mix of the good, the bad and the frustrating. Page load times are tolerable, at under 10 seconds. But although the PS2 R can handle Flash, forget watching video (or even looking at photos with any satisfaction).
Setting up email is a cinch, thumb-typing on the qwerty keyboard satisfying, but getting text into the correct field remains a hit-and-miss process. And the PocketSurfer2 R's cursor is prone to disappearing.
Datawind tells PC Advisor that there are already more than 30,000 PocketSurfer2 subscribers in the UK. This is significant.
Because Datawind is, in effect, an ad-supported ISP, the more users there are, the cheaper the device will become. Right now £159 buys you up to 20 hours of internet access, each month, for up to a year. Exceed your limit and you pay £5.99.
Pricing for the second year has not yet been announced, but right now original PocketSurfer2 owners have to shell out £39 (if their hardware has survived). International roaming is supported at 5p per minute, and users can purchase unlimited internet for (their) life for £59.
The PocketSurfer2 R is neither the best-looking, nor the easiest to use mobile internet device. And the iPhone generation is sure to turn up its nose at its limitations, counter-intuitive quirks and less-than stellar styling. But the PocketSurfer2 R delivers off-the-shelf, contract-free internet access wherever you roam. This is a compelling proposition for less tech-savvy users, particularly if rumours about an impending PocketSurfer netbook are true.