What is it: an external 33.6Kbits/sec modem that can handle voice as well as data calls
Applications: Web browsing, transferring files between PCs, faxing, and an answer machine
For a long time, the fastest speed of a modem on an ordinary phone line was 28.8Kbits/sec. Then US Robotics announced that its Sportster would offer a rate of 33.6Kbits/sec, and it wasn't long before other manufacturers followed suit.
Although 33.6Kbits/sec has yet to be approved as a standard by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), almost all 33.6 modems conform to a V.34plus unofficial standard. So buying such a model isn't quite as risky as it might at first appear.
Psion Dacom, Europe's largest manufacturer of PC-Card modems, has always opted for the utilitarian box design for its desktop models. The Surfer, however, is the first of the company's 'lifestyle' or new-shape products.
It has a slim, tapered case and a coloured slip-on cover in a material similar to a wet suit. As its name suggests, the design is intended to be reminiscent of a surfboard.
Modem communication used to be a black art, but Windows put paid to the mysterious codes needed to get computers to talk to each other. However, modem manufacturers have been slow to catch up, and some still insist on providing models that have a strip of cryptically-captioned status LEDs.
But the Surfer makes do with three LEDs for power, online and data. Add to this a power button and built-in microphone, and you have a modem that's easy on the eyes and easy to use.
Although 33.6Kbits/sec isn't much faster than 28.8Kbits/sec, the downloading of information is speeded up and this cuts back on telephone calls. In ideal conditions, a 28.8 modem can download a 1Mb file in about 4.9 minutes, whereas a 33.6 model can do this in approximately 4.2 minutes. A 33.6Kbits/sec modem needs a connection to a service that works with this speed and, at the moment, this does not include the majority of Internet Service Providers.
Because of its plug-and-play compatibility, installing the Surfer is straightforward with Windows 95. A disk is supplied that contains the necessary driver, as well as ones for Lotus cc:Mail and Notes. Setup disks are also included for Pipex Dial, Compuserve and AOL online services.
One of the most useful features of a voice modem such as the Surfer is its ability to handle voice, as well as data calls. Unlike SVD modems, it can't handle both types at the same time, but it can differentiate between each type of call and deal with them accordingly.
The supplied Trio Communication Suite 95 software enables the Surfer to operate as an answer machine and fax, as well as an ordinary modem.
Though this software isn't sophisticated, it is competent, and the facility to record and playback messages through the modem is a handy touch.
Verdict: despite it's gimmicky appearance, the Psion Dacom Surfer does the job at a competitive price.
Although its voice feature is a useful extra, it probably won't be widely used, which means that the 33.6Kbits/sec transfer rate is of limited benefit.
Modems from different manufacturers need to be using the same 'language' to communicate. There are two main ITU standards for fast modems - V.32bis and V.34. The V.32bis standard covers modems capable of speeds up to 14.4Kbits/sec; the V.34 covers those up to 28.8Kbits/sec. The 33.6Kbits/sec modems have yet to be issued as standard. For use in the UK, a modem must carry BABT and CE safety approval.
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