Three WebCube review
"You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone," sang Joni Mitchell, and while the things she was singing about where certainly more socially important, when you move house, you find yourself humming her 1970 hit when you discover you're without internet access.
So when Pocket-lint shifted from one end of suburbia to the other, it was with a tear in our eye that we said a temporary goodbye to our Virgin Media 50MB broadband, and a hello to the Cube, from Three. This little thing would be keeping us online, making sure we could file stories and most of all, send witty move-related tweets.
Three offers the Cube either as a pay-as-you-go device, or as a subscription-based system. This means you could use it, as we did, to fill a temporary hole, or as your full-time broadband solution.
Built by Huawei, sold by Three
Like pretty much all broadband dongles, the Cube is built by Huawei, although you might not know that to look at it. The advantage though, over most dongles, is that here you can share the connection easily with up to five users.
In terms of simplicty, you couldn't want more. Simply plug the Cube in, and go. There's a button on the top for WPS, which allows you to connect without a password - assuming your PC or phone supports it - and there is nothing to configure. The SIM card even ships in the slot, making it even less likely to cause problems.
While there's nothing much to configure, there is a webpage for administration. There's some decent, advanced, stuff in here too. We changed the Wi-Fi name and switched to a different password, but you can also fiddle with other settings. It's a pretty slick system, and very user-friendly. There are also links out to check your balance and - best of all - no need to log in to the Three site, it's all automatic.
The best looking broadband by far
Most routers and modems could hardly be described as attractive. Indeed, many are outright mingers. But when it comes to looks, the Cube is really very pretty. It is, of course, a cube, which gives us a mathematical ratio that's very pleasing. The outer case is a frosted affair, with a sort of funnel within, made from white plastic. People will see the Cube in your home, and be very interested to know what magical task it performs.
There's a blue LED, which illuminates the inside and tells you when the WPS mode is active. We liked this, but quickly realised that spousal approval for such radiant blueness would be somewhat lacking, so we turned it off, which is easy via the configuration console.
The top of the Cube has a Three logo, as well as a button to activate WPS. This allows you to pair a device to the cube without messing around with passwords. It's actually a decent system, and one that's very handy to have. It also means you can grant friends access, without giving them a password. There are signal strength LEDs too - these look very cool - and they will help you find a good location for the Cube, where the signal is strongest in your house.
There's not much else to see on the box, aside from the USIM socket, which should already have your Three SIM in when you buy the device. There's also a reset button and a socket for an external aerial. We like the idea of boosting the 3G signal with an aerial. One isn't provided, but if you're in a low-signal area it might give you some options.
If you don't like the Cube's style, then we note, with interest, that you can pull the top off, and plug the resulting device directly into a mains socket. This is interesting but slightly flawed, in that it uses a European-style power connector. Even so, these can be adapted, and it does add another option, especially if you travel and need something quick to set up.
If you're on the pay-as-you-go service, you can top up in three amounts. Either 1GB, for £10.50, 3GB for £20.50 or 12GB for a pretty substantial £70.50. These amounts are valid, cunningly, for the same period as their capacity in gigabytes. So the 1GB package can be used over a month, the 3GB over three months and, yes, the 12GB lasts 12 months.
On a pay-monthly arrangement, the service differs slightly, and is a little confusing. But from what we can tell, on a one-month rolling contract, you can get 10GB for £15 a month. There are long contracts of 24 months too, and you can get the Cube cheaper - or free - if you opt for one of them.
Most of all, we noted that there is a tariff here for everyone, and packages to suit lots of pockets. This Cube is also being trialled in some parts of the country as a permanent replacement to fixed broadband. Based on what we've seen, that's a pretty reasonable idea, although prices will need to change to get everyone on board. Oh, and 3G is always likely to slow down at times of high demand, so that's worth bearing in mind too.
No wired option
If we could change just one thing about the Three Cube, it would be the lack of Ethernet socket. Providing one would really be a big help, because while Wi-Fi is pretty widespread, there are still plenty of devices that don't have it.
In fact, adding Ethernet might be quite a lot more complicated. You can only have five users on the Cube at any one time, so it sounds as if the device has some hardware limitations that might make it quite hard to support more users.
Whatever the reasons, this does make the Cube slightly unsuitable for a fixed broadband replacement, as there will always be some things on your network that need to be hard wired into the matrix.
Like fixed broadband
We have to say, if you didn't tell someone they were using mobile broadband, it's unlikely they'd be able to tell based on using the Cube. Accessing web pages was lightning fast. We're lucky enough to live in a strong signal area for Three, but even so, there are times when we were zipping along without a care in the world.
Even videos on YouTube played with minimal buffering wait, and were smooth and without interruption once we had them playing.
And therein lies the problem. The Three Cube is a little bit too good. Don't forget that mobile broadband is still a very costly way to get online. At its cheapest, you'll be paying £5.80 per GB and if you can't afford a one-off top-up of £70, then you'll be paying £10 per GB. While not a total disgrace, it's still a costly way to get online.
But of course, some people may have very light usage, or be in areas where the mobile signal is good, but getting a fixed line in would be impractical. Students might find this device pretty handy too, if they're in need of short-term access in a place where signing up to a long, fixed, contract would be stupid.
But most of all, we found the Cube, and Three, to be perfect for our needs, with that sole issue about lacking wired access. We've got a lot of love for this little cube.
You might need a temporary solution, or you might be a modest internet user who just needs to be able to pop online from time-to-time to check something out, or look up some information and order a pizza. For those users, the Cube and Three's service is perfect. It's reasonably-priced, and if you're prepared to pay for the 12GB, 12-month service, then your top-ups won't expire quickly and the service will be there when you need it.
Even more demanding users can get on well with the Cube. We've listened to Spotify, watched YouTube videos, and most crucially, done our job - all over this decent connection at high speed. The test results show, it's quicker than some people's home broadband.
Of course, if you live outside Three's coverage area, or you are a very heavy downloader, then this service is unlikely to be useful to you.
In terms of simplicity, performance, reliability and style, we don't think there's any more that we could ask.