Owning a pocket-sized portable internet connection ready to use wherever you are has never been so appealing.
As everything online moves towards the fast go-anywhere connection of smartphones, tablets and netbooks, and the drab experience of sitting at a desktop becomes something we reminisce about, more and more devices are surfacing aimed squarely at mobile internet users.
Vodafone’s new MiFi dongle, the Huawei R205, promises fast, mobile internet speeds which can be shared across five devices at once.
The R205’s closest competitor is the previously reviewed Huawei E586, which is available on a variety of monthly and pay-as-you-go tariffs with Three. When we reviewed Three’s dongle it ticked all the boxes performance wise, but despite being relatively good value for money, capped downloads were a barrier.
So how does Vodafone’s dongle compare?
Like its rival, the R205 operates on a 3G+ network. This translates to very fast mobile internet which is perfectly capable of demanding tasks like streaming high quality live television when you are receiving a full-strength signal.
In testing the dongle ran at an impressive four megabytes per second download speed and one megabyte per second upload. This is not just fast by dongle standard, it beats some home broadband connections and probably more importantly, is faster than its rival.
At home the dongle coped very well under extremely heavy use across five devices, all of which were streaming or downloading. The only time it stumbled was when connected to a Playstation in an attempt to play FIFA online.
On the move proved a little more of a struggle than for Three’s rival unit. Although the connection was still faster, the signal dropped out considerably more times. The dongle also irritatingly requires you to manually reconnect to whatever device you were using. This becomes less and less fun after each entry of the dongle's Wi-Fi key, which can only be accessed by removing the battery case on the dongle. However these connection issues were only experienced on a train journey and when static the connection was generally reliable and consistently fast.
So Vodafone has trumped Three and are selling a faster, more reliable device? Not quite.
Although it does perform slightly better than its rival, as a product the R205 just doesn’t seem as well thought-out as the E586.
It doesn’t have the unbelievably useful feature of allowing you to see the W-Fi key on the device’s screen, which when you need to enter it so often is extraordinarily frustrating.
It is also heavier and bulkier than Three’s dongle, which for a portable device is critical. It comes with less in the box too; one of the nicest features of the Three dongle was its docking station which could be tucked away anywhere in the house to charge, rather than hanging out of your laptop on a Micro USB cable.
In short, the R205 is a bit of a pain in the arse. Where the E586 fits into your life and fulfills your internet needs without any notable drama, the R205 is a constant annoyance.
On a more shallow note, it is also ugly. It looks like a cheap knock-off of an early iPod. Whilst this may seem utterly irrelevant, when you compare it to the sleek E586 with its flat shiny surface and neat curves, the R205 looks like something you would be embarrassed to be seen with. The E586 looks like something you deserve as a fast-paced, modern, on-the-go internet type.
But all of the above scarcely matters when you are confronted with the biggest problem for Vodafone; the cost. The E586’s stumbling block was download caps. Vodafone’s caps are so much worse it’s almost laughable.
The most attractive price plan is an 18-month contract (this is the only way to get the dongle for free) which will cost you £15 a month for 2GB of data. The Three dongle will cost you £18.99 a month with a 15GB data cap.
When Three are offering such vastly better deals which are still far from perfect, it would be nothing short of lunacy to go anywhere near this device.
The Huawei R205 is available now on Vodafone.