Mobile broadband dongles are great except for two killer faults: they only work with devices that have a full-on USB socket meaning no fun for the range of Wi-Fi enabled devices you've got around your house, and they are normally so large they hog more than one USB socket.
Perhaps realising these fatal flaws and seeing the success and popularity of 3's Mi-Fi wireless dongle, Vodafone has launched its own Mobile Wi-Fi device called the R201 or to give it its more catchy name the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi. Put simply, the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi is a device that will let you connect to the Internet on the go (providing you have coverage) and then to any Wi-Fi device you fancy.
The dongle is square, white, branded clearly with the Vodafone logo and minimalist in its overall design. The top sports a large sliding on/off switch, a bright glowing and flashing red LED and a small monochrome OLED screen grelaying the status such as which network you are connected to, whether you're getting 3G or GPRS, how many devices are connected (up to five), the overall signal of the device and how much battery you've got left. Peel off the back and you'll reveal the removable battery, your SIM card slot and a microSD slot as well (up to 16GB).
Made by Huawei, the same people as 3's Mi-Fi dongle, the only other detailing on the device is a Micro-USB socket for charging and a WPS button that lets you enable more secure connection options if that's your thing.
Turn it on and the device will start flashing. The sliding switch reveals a large red LED light and for some reason, presumably to remind you its on, it will flash at you every 2 seconds. As soon as you do turn it on a wireless network (SSID) will be created and appear in your wireless networks list on your laptop, tablet, MP3 player, games console, or whatever else.
Connecting to the device is as easy as punching in the security password on your computer (found on the inside of the Mobile Wi-Fi dongle - don't worry you don't have to take the battery out just the case off) and once connected you are ready to go.
Vodafone insist on telling you that you are connected via the first web page you visit and that means being re-directed to the device's web hub. Luckily it only takes a quick click of a mouse if you are on a laptop for example to carry on your way. The hub is also the place where you can access the microSD card you've got installed in the dongle, as well as manage more advanced settings like the SSID name.
Out and about the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi is easy to use and providing you have a decent connection. We got about 4 hours usage from a single charge, however with a USB cable in the box if you're running low and using a USB friendly device then you can easily carry on using it. Being connected via a cable doesn't stop the device working.
The lack of cables is a liberating one as is the ability to use it with a range of other devices and all in all the experience is virtually identical to the 3 offering just on a different network.
As for pricing. The device will cost £49 if you are only willing to sign up for an 18-month contract and pay £15 a month for 3GB of data. If you are happy to sign up for a £20 a month offering the price of the device comes down to £29 and you'll get 4GB a month for the next 18 months. Data hungry savages will be able to knock themselves out with a £25 a month (18 months) contract getting 5GB of data and walking out of the shop with the dongle for free.
The prices are considerably more expensive than 3's offering of £22 for 15GB of data a month for 18 months, so it's up to you which network you want to go with.
From a hardware perspective it's fair to say that this is virtually identical to the 3 offering - it's made by the same company after all, however you do miss out on timer and data counter found on the 3 device.
There is also a question of costs. You can get three times as much data for less than the top of the range offering from Vodafone on the 3 network. On a spec sheet that sounds impressive, however in the real world you have to ask yourself what's the better for network coverage in your area. If Vodafone ranks higher then this is the better option.
Either way you aren't going to be disappointed with the hardware.