***What is it?***
Vodafone, and other mobile service providers, have produced a 'dongle' which is effectively a USB stick which can be plugged into the USB port of a computer - laptop or home, where with the appropriate software installed, is capable of picking up it's companies internet signals to connect to. They tend to be for 'casual use' and have a low useage allowance which is great for those on the move and wanting internet and as I've read in some places that can be used effectively abroad also.
They come as either PAYG (pay as you go) or contract. The particular dongle I have is PAYG and needs to be topped up when the 3GB useage limit is used up.
This particular dongle also comes in three colours; blue, which is the one I use, pink and white. As said previously, other mobile service providers have also created their own mobile internet dongles.
***How much is it?***
My dongle was £24.99 from Argos. You effectively pay £8.99 for the dongle and then you get a preloaded £15 credit which equates to 3GB useage allowance. This item was on 'sale' when I purchased although as far as I can tell, this is the standard price for it!
***Ease of Use***
The dongle comes in a little pack which includes a usermanual, lots of unneccessary plastic and cardboard to securely hold it in for display purposes and of course your beloved dongle with a useful USB to USB port cable meaning you can plug this into the back of your computer and the cable which is about a foot long can be kept near you and the dongle plugged into the end. We've found this pretty useful as the ports at the back are so close together, and the dongle being a little chubby, by using the cable we can put its smaller end in the back of the computer without it putting any pressure against anything else we have plugged in.
When you plug it in, it has the installation files preloaded. Following the manual and onscreen instructions you install the USB driver and relevant interface folders you need to load it and use frequently. On your desktop 'Vodafone SMS' and 'Vodafone Mobile Connect'. I haven't used the SMS so I can't really comment on its use. By the looks of the simple interface it is a case of loading credit onto it as you would do a mobile phone (a mobile number is associated with the dongle) and you can use the credit alike a phone to send and recieve text messages.
The Vodafone Mobile Connect interface is similarly as simple. It recognises your device and picks up signals. You also have an associated 'mobile' number from which you can text and also is what you need to know when topping up. You select your connection and click 'connect' or 'disconnect'.
The dongle has a small flashing light near the rounded end which tells you whether it has picked up a signal and what type of signal it is. You are automatically taken to the Main View where, if you dongle is plugged in, it first looks for your device, which takes less than 20 seconds and the given options depending on what connections have been picked up. You then click 'Connect now' and after a few seconds you are connected and ready to go.
The dongle is definitely for casual use and for this it is excellent in most respects. 3GB is a lot for intermittent use but there is a downside which apparently was not the case previously. The £15 is no longer unlimited and you have 30 days to use up your allowance which I can imagine if someone is looking for something casual, it could prove constantly if you're not picking it up mulitiple times in a month. I also think this would be less of an issue if you can buy in other increments i.e. £5 for 1GB. This is not the case again - the minimum in order to create a 'data bundle' is £15, otherwise your money will be used as credit for example, for using the Vodafone SMS application.
My other issue is that at the moment we are waiting to be connected via a permenant provider and between us, my partner and I thinking this would be more effective than BTFon, have already spent another £15 top on this one so that £45 including the purchase price in less than a month. We've avoided downloading and uploading as much as possible in order to make it last longer too, which helps but at the same time, this is designed for someone is who is using it on a semi-casual purpose. You cannot use it all the time, but you have to need it enough to use up that £15 without losing money when it comes to the 30 day expiry time.
Another problem is that the signal overall is either 'None' or 'Very Poor'. My partners computer is fine in general despite this - pages take a time to load but after a while this quickens. However my laptop hates this dongle. It installed fine but gets incredibly poor if not non-existant signal (even in the same room as the desktop computer!!) and has a repeated fault which causes the 'evil blue screen' which I haven't been able to find and eradicate when looking online. The forums are useful unless your problem isn't there! A particular system file disagrees with this dongle and I can't find a patch or similar problem. This dongle also refuses to let my laptop use google at all - seeing as all my emails are at a gmail address, this is problematic and I have to fire up the home computer if I expect to use it. This is frustrating as I use the internet frequently through the day and can't even do a simple google search or use my own laptop with the files I want to work with!
However I did have a problem loading credit, called them and both people I spoke to were extremely helpful and friendly, offering advice where possible. The only issue is that its an expensive 0845 number.
Although I moan, in terms of service and as a casual use item it is great - a perfect idea which with the right locale and a home computer or a laptop capable of figuring out any issues it picks up. The connection doesn't drop out suddenly and it is simple to reload. 3GB can get you extremely far and in our circumstance it helps to miss out on the £15 a week charges of BTFon and it's inconsisteny signal.
OK I got this from Phones 4U, the first 4 times I went to pick it up it was "not available" but anyway enough of my complaining about another company that has nothing to do with this review.
When I finally got one home, I plugged it in to find a semi quick installation that got me and my very stylish laptop on-line. I was happy for a little while until the complications or "The catch" kicked in. I had my laptop firewall set up to respond to 1 DNS number (Domain Name System), that kept changing, not helpful, the randomised DNS number would change every time I went on to the internet, so now it takes me twice as long to connect.
Another problem is the connectivity, lets just say it's terrible, I wish I wasn't lead on by the cheap and easy factor that Vodafone pass around on advertisements, because o2 is far quicker to connect and far easy, the DNS still changes for me but between two, I can handle that.
So if you are looking for Mobile internet, do your research, I recommend O2, but make sure you have a good signal before purchasing so you don't get stuck in a 24 month contract and your internet doesn't work.
My shared house doesn't have an Internet connection, and so after talking to the IT people at work and thinking through various options, I decided to go for mobile broadband.
At first I thought this was Internet on my mobile phone, which sounded like a terrible idea, but I found out it was actually a USB stick that slots into my laptop so I can have Internet on the move, anywhere I like (theoretically). Of course this depends on signal. I won't talk about the broadband itself much more as it's not that I'm reviewing - just say that my package gives me 3GB a month for £15 - the USB stick I have is the standard one which is free.
My Vodafone Mobile Connect USB Stick isn't like the one pictured - it's white and slightly chunkier. It also has a light inside it that lights up blue when it's working, red when it's disconnected, and also flashes greeny yellow when it's loading.
Because of the width of the USB stick, it's pretty much impossible to use the USB port next to it. I could probably if I shifted the stick slightly, but it moves very easily and I don't want to break the connection or the stick.
The stick itself has an opening for an SD card (don't know why?), and an almost invisible mini slot that you put the provided sim card into.
The installation was pretty simple - just do as it says on screen after you've inserted the CD and it takes a few minutes.
Once it's installed and you've restarted your computer, you can connect to the internet by double clicking the program icon on your desktop or in your taskbar. Also, you can wait for it to find the connection or click 'connect' yourself. It does take a few seconds to connect.
The program itself has a few options like VPN settings, options, and an estimate of usage. It does say to check your bill for accurate costs, which is good because it is often very out. After I'd had it a few days it said I'd been on the internet for 140 hours (!) The time and MB usage seems to go up and down crazily, but I can work out roughly what I've used now I'm more used to it. It does seem good value for money though as I'm online every evening and the past few weekends and I've only used about 1 GB in nearly a month. I do however mainly use it for games and browsing, not downloads.
I've tried this on my old Sony Vaio running Windows XP and with practically no space or ram and it works fine, even letting me play online games like Catan with no problems. My newer Samsung laptop with Vista will let me use the Internet easily but doesn't like to load Catan properly (it will do with normal wireless). I also haven't been able to use FTP successfully yet but I'm still working on that as I think it might be a setting my end.
Word of warning though - if you can't get signal it's terrible. I did check online before I signed up and they said they had good 3G coverage in my area, but someone I work with says his connection is terrible and very slow. He only lives about a mile down the road, so I was quite lucky. Also, one of my housemates has it so I figured it'd be okay. Unfortunately though there's no way to trial it before you get stuck into a contract.
No need to pay for landline and internet at your residence - good if you need internet wherever you are, in a shared house, or one person alone (wouldn't really work for a family).
Good if you move around a lot as you can take your internet with you rather than being tied into a contract.
USB lid doesn't fit on the end of the stick when in use which is really annoying
Blocks USB ports next to it
Not incredibly strong; easy to wiggle accidentally
If you're unlucky and get bad signal you're stuck because the contracts are 18 months upwards.
If you buy online with Vodafone, or even in some stores, you can get a free laptop with the £25/month contract, but I think minimum is 24 months.