So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Vodafone Mobile Connect HSDPA Data Card
- Works with both Windows and Mac, good software, ease of use and setup
- Unreliable when in standard 3G or GSM coverage area, only rated to HSDPA 1.8Mbps rather than the full 3.6Mbps, expensive
Excellent software isn't enough to save the Mobile Connect HSDPA Data Card. Although it is a solid product that should appeal to business users, the expensive costs and lack of HSDPA coverage areas means most users will still experience sluggish speeds.
Price$ 299.00 (AUD)
The Mobile Connect HSDPA Data Card is another product in the Vodafone range that offers wireless access to the Internet via Vodafone's high-speed 3G network. Able to achieve High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) coverage at a maximum rate of 1.8Mbps, the Data Card connects to a desktop or notebook PC via a PCMCIA card slot.
According to Vodafone, the Data Card provides data download speeds of up to 1.8 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 384Kbps. Unfortunately, the card can't achieve speeds as high as the USB Modem, which is rated at up to 3.6Mbps. This isn't much of a disadvantage now, as only limited parts of the Vodafone HSDPA network are running at a rate of 3.6Mbps, but it will become a concern in the near future.
The Mobile Connect service supports connectivity in HSDPA, 3G and GPRS coverage areas. If the HSDPA signal strength isn't strong enough, the service falls back to standard 3G (a maximum speed of 384Kbps). If no HSDPA or 3G signal can be received, then the modem will revert down to standard GSM (60Kbps maximum), which is barely useable, even for basic web browsing.
During testing, the modem performed well in our offices (based in St Leonards, Sydney) receiving a HSDPA signal. However, it was less effective in the western suburbs of Sydney, only managing to connect via a low, regular 3G signal. For consistency across all the mobile broadband products, we performed a number of tests, ranging from small amounts of data like emails and basic Web browsing, to streaming services, and finally to basic downloading of files (ranging from 1MB to 4MB in size).
The Data Card has no problem with basic web browsing, loading pages swiftly and without much delay. We also checked our email successfully, with a stable connection and fairly consistent speeds in our offices. If you are in a HSDPA or 3G coverage area, streaming media from such websites as You Tube and Pandora isn't a problem, but this is virtually impossible if the coverage drops down to GSM. Streaming in western Sydney was a little slow as we could only receive standard 3G coverage, but it was still possible.
Downloading small files while in the standard HSDPA coverage area of our offices, we were able to achieve almost identical speeds to the USB Modem. Downloads peaked at around 97KB/s, but fluctuated regularly between 78KB/s and 88KB/s. The Data Card is yet again ideal for the business user, since they won't be too interested in streaming media.
The Data Card uses the same software as the USB Modem, so it scores points for ease of use and setup. It is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS's and took less than a couple of minutes to install on our notebook. After a restart we were up and running. A convenient dashboard menu uses tabs for connect, SMS, MMS email, Web and support, and users can even check their usage patterns for both current and previous months.
Three plans are offered for the Data Card, ranging from the entry level $29.95 a month for 100MB of data to the highest $99.95 for 1GB of data. All plans charge an additional 30 cents per megabyte for any additional usage, while users can also change between data bundles from month to month, without penalty and without any contract required.
The card itself has a jack for connecting an external antenna, but unlike some other data cards, such as Unwired and iBurst, there is no antenna included in the box. Unfortunately, new users with only an express card slot available on their notebook can't use the Data Card and will have to fork out some extra cash for the USB Modem if they wish to use the Vodafone service.
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