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Datawind Ubisurfer review

Verdict

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

Review Date: 21 Jun 2010

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £136 (£160 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
3 stars out of 6

Features & Design
2 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
2 stars out of 6

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.

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User comments

The adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true seems to apply :(

It would have a nice, cheap alternative for a quick browse or email check

By John_Zammit on 23 Jun 2010

Ubi - What ?

Well it was delivered quickly and THAT is all I can say at the moment.
It hasn't booted up regardless of how many times it has been 'Reset'.
Also, the hang-ups and system crashes, ADVICE, is in the printed manual, so it MUST be a common problem.
I am in the process of a) asking them how to resolve it.
b) Getting my money back.

All in all, a BAD, VERY BAD and Dissappointing experience !

By JetMorgan on 8 Jul 2010

Datawind Ubisurfer

First one didn't boot up at all, despite numerous resets.
Second one would NOT connect to Vodaphone network, WiFi was S-L-O-W, with numerous page freezes.
I tried to install and run other WinCe apps, all to no avail ' Invalid WinCe Application' was the constant error message.
Brilliant concept --- Let down by the software !
Let's hope that they get it sorted quickly !
THINK, carefully, before buying this product !

By JetMorgan on 25 Nov 2010

Cheap Mobile Broadband

Granted people are saying the connection isnt great, but if it was, wouldnt it be the cheapest connection available?

Ive been using a MIFI device on the 3 network, and i think its great. Now, the prepaid model, comes with a sim with 3gb of data free and then you have to pay £10 a month for 1gb. Ive realised you can buy the sims with 3gb on for 3months off amazon. I thought if i were to get the MIFI unlocked I could take the sim for the Ubisurfer and have free internet.

What do you think? Good idea?

By jasonwood999 on 28 Jan 2011

How it REALLY works

I'm surprised technical people like you haven't twigged this... The "browser" isn't actually a browser at all. It's a remote-control, remote-desktop, onto a server in Canada somewhere that actually accesses and renders your web pages.

The whole screen is sent to the Ubi as blocks of graphics. This is why there's a delay selecting text, etc. Because it's happening 3000 miles away! It means users don't have to worry about the latest software, and Flash DOES work, just jerkily, at one level removed.

Basically the Ubisurfer sends keypresses and mouse moves to the Canadian server, running Windows, and the Canadian server sends a screen back. This means you're always running the latest browser (on the remote machine). One big problem is the remote machine seems to use a screen size of 1024x768, and the Ubi's not too responsive at scrolling round this "virtual screen".

The other option, using Wifi, uses it's built-in version of Internet Explorer, which is very fast and responsive, surprisingly so for such a low-powered machine. Even handles complex pages quite well.

So for Wifi it's a completely different experience. But it's intended use, over 3G, yes, is a complete pain, and pages regularly just don't work. Sometimes it seems deaf to your input.

Also, as another user noted, it doesn't run a lot of Windows CE software. Which you have to download on a real PC then transfer across on memory card / stick, since the Ubisurfer can't download files.

Overall it's a shame it's so clunky, might be solvable if Datawind put a few servers on this side of the Atlantic.

By Greenaum on 15 Sep 2011

Also

Oh, I should mention, that it's also got a built-in media player for MP3 files. Also plays videos, but high-bitrate ones, not so well.

By Greenaum on 15 Sep 2011

Utterly attrocious

worst netbook I have EVER seen, propriety software that cannot be upgraded, Datawind's site is poorly made and refuses to let you download updates

Sluggish, awkward to use. Myy phone is more powerful and easier to use + supports more operating systems!!

I have been a PC technitian for 15+ years and i can honestly say I have thrown away better laptops than this, I have also found better ones in skips

By theskybeblue on 15 Jun 2012

Utterly attrocious

worst netbook I have EVER seen, propriety software that cannot be upgraded, Datawind's site is poorly made and refuses to let you download updates

Sluggish, awkward to use. Myy phone is more powerful and easier to use + supports more operating systems!!

I have been a PC technitian for 15+ years and i can honestly say I have thrown away better laptops than this, I have also found better ones in skips

By theskybeblue on 15 Jun 2012

Utterly attrocious

worst netbook I have EVER seen, propriety software that cannot be upgraded, Datawind's site is poorly made and refuses to let you download updates

Sluggish, awkward to use. Myy phone is more powerful and easier to use + supports more operating systems!!

I have been a PC technitian for 15+ years and i can honestly say I have thrown away better laptops than this, I have also found better ones in skips

By theskybeblue on 15 Jun 2012

UBI Surfer

I bought this, put it away as a present forgot about it. The UBI surfer will not work, I called the 0844 help line and after giving the id number to the man my UBI surfer will not work at all, not even to connect to wi-fi. He said that he needs to discuss with Vodafone as his subscription has run out. I now have a £139.99 new unit I cannot use. Any suggestions anyone? Can I put another sim card in it? I think it is discusting this has happened.

By Lindy on 27 Apr 2013

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