Connectivity is the king in this wired world. Orange is the latest mobile phone operator to step in to the mix with its 3G data card, but what is it hoping to offer us that the others don't? We get online to find out.
Using the PC Card slot on a laptop the black card with familiar logo sits comfortably out of the way. Shipped in the box is an optional booster cable with aerial that hangs over your laptop's screen and a few clicks and button presses and you can be surfing the web.
It's surprisingly as simple as that. No lengthy setup procedures, no sitting around waiting for the signal to be found. Once connected, the card gets to work offering connection speeds of up to 384kbps, depending on the signal coverage in your area and so far in the locations we've tried it we have to say that said 3G coverage is pretty good. From inner city to idyllic countryside, we've been able to get online and edit the site without any problems.
When running, unlike the Vodafone option, the main window is very discreet giving you a quick glance of duration, connection strength and bandwidth used.
However like the Vodafone offering, you can also use the mini dashboard to send text messages, check your internet mail or connect to a VPN or business network. There are even preset buttons you can program to act as shortcuts if you wish.
Settings and reporting gives you the chance to chose things like which internet browser is the default although in our tests it wouldn't give us an option to load Firefox as the default over IE. Other menus will let you know how much data you've burnt through and you can set these meters to reset on the first of every month so you know how much of your quota you've used.
What's the catch? Connectivity is expensive and it's amazing how much bandwidth you use if you are doing more than just checking the odd email. Thanks to our laptop set for automatic updates with Microsoft we managed over 100Mb in half a day before we realised what was going on.
If we'd had opted for the cheapest tariff that would have meant a whopping £175.43 just for a couple of patches. To be fair to Orange, it's the same on other networks. On Vodafone the same amount would cost a heart-stopping £235. But it shows that you've got to be careful.
Compared to other price structures from other operators, Orange benefits the email checker rather than the heavy office user although only when you don't stray from the limit.
Look at the other end and Orange is (at the time of writing this review) £30 more expensive for the same download capacity as Vodafone over a 1-month period.
Price dependant on contract
There is no questioning the quality and performance of the card. Connection was made in seconds rather than minutes and every time we tested it, it was fast. Images on pages are automatically reduced in quality to save download data and speed up page loads - similar again to other models.
As with other cards the benefit here is that you only pay for the data you transmit or receive so you can stay connected and not be charged - just make sure the webpage you’re on doesn’t have automatic refresh or changing adverts.
What makes this one stand out from the crowd? To be honest, not much. There is Wi-Fi built in and the interface might appeal to some over other attempts from the other operators. The real crunch point will be the tariff you choose and how it compares to other players in the market.
However as with all 3G cards currently on the market you’ve got to be careful with the costs involved. Connectivity is the king; you’ve just got to have the pots of gold to back it up.