Pogo

An intriguing mobile Internet device, whose pricing looks competitive. Success will be heavily dependent on the quantity and quality of Flash-based software available.

Pogo, from UK-based Pogo Technology, is a mobile Internet access device rather than a mobile phone. You can make phone calls using a Pogo, but where it excels is in looking at Web pages. The Pogo device measures 128 by 101 by 25mm with an LCD screen dominating the front. The dimensions are a bit odd as the figures refer to the corners, although the Pogo is pillow shaped. The four corners contain the power socket, an on-off switch, the aerial and the stylus.

Even when it's switched off, the Pogo looks cool. Switch it on and the screen lights up. It's a low power technology, designed to keep the battery life up and the cost down. The colour screen is not as impressive to look at as a Compaq iPAQ or Siemens SX45, but it does perform well in brightly lit conditions.

Along the bottom of the screen two meters show battery and signal strength. The main screen gives you a set of options -- phone, Web home, messages, people, Web links and controls. The phone option provides a standard phone keypad. The whole design is very flexible; you can pick themes and skins for everything, including the dialler, with more skins downloadable from the Pogo Web site.

You enter text and numbers via the touch-screen. There is no handwriting recognition -- instead, a virtual keyboard pops up. There is a choice of character sets, including alphabetic, numeric and Greek.

Pogo is essentially a mobile thin client. The problem with using a thin client over the GSM network is that bandwidth is limited to 9.6Kbit/s, compared to a standard wired modem at around 40Kbit/s. Pogo has got around this with some very clever compression software. Pogo Technology's server takes the Web page you want to access and strips out animations, reduces the colours to the 256 the Pogo can display, and swaps the fonts for those that look good on the Pogo screen. Then it compresses the data -- typically to a sixth of the normal amount -- and sends it to the handheld device, where it's uncompressed and displayed.

Some file downloads and Web pages are still painfully slow, but in general using the Pogo over GSM feels good -- akin to a wired modem, and very much better than a Nokia 9210 using HSCSD (High Speed Circuit Switched Data) at 28.8Kbit/s. Of course, what would be even better is the clever compression and more bandwidth, and that may yet come. The hardware in the Pogo uses a standard radio module from Wavecom. In fact, it's the same module that Handspring uses in its new Treo devices. The Wavecom module has all the hardware necessary to do GPRS, so you may see a 30Kbit/s upgrade for the Pogo in the next few months.

Even so, you'll still need to pick your Web sites with some care. The screen has a resolution of 320 by 240 pixels, which is a quarter of what's regarded as a minimum by Web designers. Rather than scroll around, the Pogo shrinks the page. This makes some things a bit tiny, but does mean you get to see a whole page at a time. Naturally there's a scroll option too. The designers experimented with buttons on the corner and built into the surround of the screen but ended up using the stylus to scroll. Tap on a link and it takes you to that page; tap elsewhere on the screen and you can scroll.

Pogo Technology provides links to some Web sites that work well on its device. These are set on the server, either in a pre-defined or personalised page. The default links on the prototype Pogo we saw were Benetton, Interflora, B&Q, Amazon and BBC News. Naturally the browser has a history option.

The melding of online and offline storage carries over to the contact manager. All contacts are held both on the Pogo device and on the server. The same is true of email, where messages are held at both ends but attachments remain on the server. The business-orientated RIM Blackberry also uses this approach. Both RIM and Pogo plan a system that lets you read attachments by providing a viewer for the server-based files. Since most people simply want to read Word, Excel and PDF files, this isn't such a tall order. Pogos will initially be supplied with an email address, but there's no reason why you can't access your standard POP3 email. Text messaging works well, and concatenated messages are supported.

The great thing about the client-server model is that your data remains safe. Access is tied to your SIM, so if you lose the Pogo, or it gets run over by a bus, you simply need to get a new one and a new SIM, and all your data is automatically downloaded. You can also access your data securely via a PC. This is a great way to get all your contacts into the Pogo, as there's no direct cable link or docking cradle.

All computing devices live or die by their software. Nearly all the software employed by the Pogo uses Macromedia's Flash. There's a vast amount of good Flash software available, and Pogo Technology believes you'll be able to download the applications you want from the Web. Most of the Pogo's menus and icons are animated, and all of these use Flash too. Macromedia is now charging a licence fee for using the latest versions of Flash (version 5.0), so Pogo Technology uses the free version 4.0. There will be support for programmers who want to write their own Pogo programs using the API known as Boing, with a Flash-based Software Developer's Kit. There is some heavy-duty protection to guard against viruses.

The Pogo uses a proprietary operating system running on a 75MHz ARM 7100 series processor, supported by 4MB of ROM and 16MB of RAM. There's an MMC slot for memory expansion. The biggest cards you can currently get are 64MB, but 128MB will be available shortly. The MMC slot is one of three ways in which Pogo will issue upgrades -- the others being to recall the device or deliver the upgrade 'over the air'.

The Pogo can be used as an MP3 player. The lack of an audio-in or data connection means that the best way to get music into the Pogo is to have an MMC reader on your PC or Mac and save the files that way. Of course, you can download files from Web sites -- if you're patient and rich. Music is played through a custom-designed headset that can also be used for phone calls.

Pogo is a very good way of browsing the Web while on the move. It also provides good email access. In fact, it succeeds in doing a lot of the things that Microsoft wants to do with its Pocket PC platform. What matters is how the early adopter crowd take to the Pogo. Carphone Warehouse has done an exclusive deal, and initially Pogo will only be available in the bigger Carphone shops. Details are still being worked out, but it's expected to cost £299 (inc. VAT) and have its own special tariff, which includes a monthly charge to pay for the server space at around £7.99 a month on a Carphone Warehouse Fresh tariff. This is a lot cheaper than BT Cellnet's £400 plus £40 a month for a Blackberry.

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