I must admit that, since we tested the Huawei E5 mobile 3G router two years ago, I’ve been using it every time I travel. I love it.
But I also know that Vodafone now has fast 3G cell towers, so I was pretty keen to try them out with the Vodafone Pocket WiFi.
These are grown up 3G dongles. Instead of requiring a laptop or desktop with a USB port, they run off their own battery power, and provide internet access to several wi-fi capable devices.
The Vodafone Pocket WiFi R208 is the latest iteration from Vodafone, and it supports the company’s fast 43MBit/s dual-carrier 3G that’s available in areas of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The device is the size of a 3.2-inch smartphone – such as the Samsung Galaxy mini II, or the Motorola Defy Mini – and weighs 145g. It’s all white, with a small LCD screen that displays information. It’s charged by micro USB and is minimalist in design, with a slot for a microSD card and standard SIM card, a small antenna connector and a button for WPS connection. Aside from that, there’s a corner hole so you can attach it to a key-ring, cord or lanyard. You switch it on by holding down the power button for three seconds, and connect to it using the SSID and password printed on the device – it’s also listed on a handy little card that comes with it. While in use, the LCD display stays dark, but you can press the power button to wake it and see the connection and battery status.
I found it utterly indispensible. I used it for a week on the road, connecting my laptop and tablet simultaneously. While I was surfing the web, writing emails, and playing online games, I noticed no slowdowns whatsoever. The battery life on this little thing is awesome, too – I left it on overnight by accident, and discovered that barely a quarter of the battery had been used. It didn’t need to be right next to my gadgets to work well either – I could stick it in my bag on the floor of a bus, and work on my laptop while riding, and it was equally usable in airport lounges, at coffee shops and while on the other side of a hotel room ten floors up. Having said that I noticed no slowdowns, that doesn’t mean that the internet speed was the same everywhere. The Vodafone Pocket WiFi was noticeably faster when I was using it in downtown Auckland compared to Auckland Airport, and it was faster in Auckland than in Wellington. It made me wish I’d taken it to Queenstown with me, rather than the E5 modem, which suffered from jittery internet service in the South Island but works flawlessly in central Auckland (I’ve actually streamed live football games from Australia while riding the bus).
Even with a week of use, running tablet and laptop, for several hours a day, I used less than 200MB of data. I think most people could get away with 500MB for a month easily, and under Vodafone’s current pricing, that would cost around $20 a month on account, or $30 on pre-paid. 2GB would set you back $40 ($50 on pre-paid).Providing ultra-fast 3G internet in the city, and good 3G elsewhere, this is a no-brainer for the traveller who hates paying hotel room wi-fi costs for slow, inefficient service.
This review was first published in the February issue of New Zealand PC World.