Datawind Ubisurfer review

21 Jun 2010

Poorly made hardware and sluggish performance get in the way of what could have been a great value internet device

Price when reviewed: 
160(£160 inc VAT)
3

We take fast computers, laptops, broadband and mobile internet access for granted these days, but it’s easy to forget that getting online is an expensive and complicated business for anyone who’s never done it before. It’s just these types of people the Datawind UbiSurfer is aimed at.

For your money you not only get a small, light netbook-style device equipped with a web browser, basic office suite software and email client, but also mobile internet access for a whole year and 50GB of online storage. Once your 12 months of access is up you can sign up for another year for just £30 inc VAT, or upgrade straight away for £80 for three years unlimited internet.

It’s worth noting this is limited to 30 hours per month – extending that to unlimited use costs £6 per month – while roaming will set you back 5p a minute in the US and Europe, and 25p per minute elsewhere.

It sounds like a fantastic deal, especially when you consider that even the cheapest netbook equipped with a 3G dongle and network contract will cost a bare minimum of £300 over the first year, and then around £120 minimum per year thereafter.

And for occasional email checkers - your Nan and Grandad perhaps - it could be all they need, especially as it’s pretty simple to use and works straight out of the box. But beware: if you’re expecting an experience to rival that of a full-blown netbook, laptop or PC you’re going to be disappointed with the Windows CE-based UbiSurfer.

We’ll start with the device’s performance. It's powered by an ARM 9 processor and 128MB of RAM, but it doesn't appear to be beefy enough. There’s no other way to say it - the UbiSurfer feels slow and sluggish to use. The cursor lags ever so slightly behind what you’re typing. Scrolling through web pages happens, but so slowly you can see the screen redraw itself, block by block.

Datawind Ubisurfer

Web pages do initially load up quickly, with Datawind’s proxy servers compressing bandwidth-hungry elements such as graphics to speed things along. We found the BBC website hoved into view in under 20 seconds, for example, but navigating around doesn’t feel responsive at all.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if its 7in 800 x 480 screen didn’t feel so small, but pages didn’t often fit widthways and scrolling and panning to get to offscreen elements quickly became tiresome. The UbiSurfer didn’t perform at all well with the Acid3 standards test, failing to render it anything like accurately, and it doesn’t support Flash content either.

There are elements of the physical design that are appealing: it’s compact and light (weighing a mere 700g), the soft-touch finish to the chassis means it feels nice to hold, and it boasts a surprising range of connectivity. You get two USB sockets on the right-hand edge, an SD card slot on the left, an Ethernet port and even 802.11bg Wi-Fi. Battery life isn’t too bad either, considering the tiny size of the battery. Sitting idle at the desktop, the UbiSurfer lasted just over four hours before giving up the ghost.

But again, we’re not convinced by the rest of the design. The keyboard is tiny and rattly and we found it uncomfortable to type on. And the fit and finish is suspect to say the least. During our time with the UbiSurfer, we noticed one of the plastic hinge covers had come slightly away from the main chassis, and we also spotted on the left-hand edge, next to the 3.5mm headphone socket, a small circular sticker covering the hole where a microphone socket would be. Slick it is not.

Details

Price ex VAT £136
Price inc VAT £160
Overall rating 3
Features & Design 2
Value for Money 4
Performance 2

Physical specifications

Dimensions 222 x 165 x 30mm (WDH)
Weight 700g

Processor and memory

RAM capacity 0.13GB
SODIMM sockets free N/A
SODIMM sockets total N/A

Screen and video

Screen size 7.0in
Resolution screen horizontal 800
Resolution screen vertical 480
Resolution 800 x 480
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 1GB
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 100Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support no
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support no

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Speaker location Screen, sides
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? no
Integrated webcam? no
Camera megapixel rating N/A
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 4hrs 5min

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Embedded CE 6.0
OS family Windows Embedded
Recovery method N/A
Software supplied SoftMaker Office 2008