I just got a chance to catch up with the folks at Datawind, and while they’re a bit behind schedule, they do still plan to bring the Ubisurfer netbook to the US. The latest target date is Q2, 2010, (as opposed to October, 2009). If Datawind actually manages to launch the Ubisurfer soon, it could poke a hole in the smartbook industry that’s still in its pre-infancy.
Here’s why: The Ubisurfer costs $199 up front. And that’s it. That price will buy you a 7 inch netbook plus a data plan good for up to 30 hours per month of downloads over a CDMA/EV-DO connection. There’s no data limit, just an hour limit. If you want more time, you pay $9.99 a month. And after the first year, you just pay $49 per year to keep using the connection.
Compare that with the $40 to $60 per month that mobile wireless operators are expected to charge for data plans to go with smartbooks such as the upcoming Lenovo Skylight.
That said, the Datawind Ubisurfer isn’t much to look at, and it certainly doesn’t offer much in the specs department. It features a 7 inch, 800 x 480 pixel display, an ARM-based processor, a tiny keyboard, an awkward touchpad with buttons on the left and right, and a light weight Linux distribution. If you’ve ever tried surfing the web with Firefox using a device like this, you know that the experience can be kind of sluggish and painful. But Datawind has a solution.
Datawind actually handles the heavy lifting of web browsing on its servers and sends compressed web pages to your netbook. So if you type in a web site, the Ubisurfer doesn’t actually have to load all the elements of the web page. Instead, it sends a signal to Datawind, which then sends the web page back to the netbook. This may sound unnecessarily complicated, but the net result is that web pages load very quickly.
The down side is that you can’t stream audio or video this way. But you can still launch Firefox to stream multimedia over a WiFi connection. You can also run other native applications including AbiWord for word processing and Gnumeric for creating and editing spreadsheets.
Datawind also plans to offer the PocketSurfer3 in the US soon. This little guy is more pocket-sized, and has a 640 x 240 pixel display. It will sell for $249. That price also includes a data plan.