Datawind UbiSurfer first impressions

I’m trying to get to grips with my impulse purchase of the week. For reasons best left unexplored I’ve parted with about 120 quid for a Datawind UbiSurfer from Maplin. Its a ex-display model, hence the slight price reduction over the RRP of £149.99.

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So, what is the UbiSurfer? In short, its a cheap netbook running an implementation of Linux. Oh, with a years free internet access thrown in.

More about that later, but first the specs:

  • 7 inch 800×400 TFT screen
  • 128MB RAM, 1GB Solid State disk
  • Full QWERTY keyboard and Touchpad mouse
  • Push-Push SD card socket and 2 USB ports (the box says 3, but I have 2 and a connector I’ve never seen before)
  • Measures 222x165x29.5mm, weighs 700g
  • Battery life provides 4 hours active use and 4 hours

Note the lack of a spec concerning the processor. Apparently it is some form of ARM 500Mhz job.

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Applications wise you get the usual word processing and spreadsheet offerings, and a collections of email clients, PDF readers and the like, all GPLed programs.

For web browsing you have Mozilla IceWeasel (Firefox), which only works when connected via a Wifi hotspot, and the UbiSurfer browser itself.
And now we get to the main (only) reason that I bought this thing: free internet access. Included in the price of the device is 30 hours access per month (for a year) to Vodaphone’s GPRS network, via an onboard modem. As we all know, GPRS isn’t exactly lightening fast, but Datawind claim that any web page can be loaded in 7 seconds.

This is supposed to be achieved by Datawind pre-rendering the web pages on their servers (in Canada) and sending them on in a compressed form to the UbiSurfer browser, which then decodes and displays them.
Ok, that sounds fine in theory, but in practice its not so good.
Datawind’s own site (www.datawind.com) takes about fifteen seconds to load, and more complex site such a Google Mail can take up to a minute to fully render.
This pre-rendering process also throws up problems when entering data onto a web page. Tabbing between fields can take up to ten seconds.
Obviously these problems don’t occur when using IceWeasel and connecting via a Wifi hotspot.

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But, oddly, my biggest complaint about the UbiSurfer browser is about the hideous splash screen which also comes up when you disconnect, thus preventing you from viewing pages offline. Here it is in all its glory.

splashJust look at the smug pissweasel. Those grass stains are going to raise questions in the office after lunch. Luckily you can overwrite the this image with something less irritating.

I shall continue to persevere with this thing, in the hope that I can find a use for it.

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