Vodafone has released a new mobile Wi-Fi dongle for those that like to stay connected on the go, but does it improve the experience over the previous model, and should you bother?
If the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205 looks familiar, that's because it is virtually identical to the Three Mi-Fi Mobile Wi-Fi (Huawei E585) we reviewed back in July 2010. Again, made by Huawei, the Vodafone offering comes with the same pebble design, same mini OLED screen and the same clip-off back to reveal the SIM card slot and swappable battery.
Around the sides is a microSD slot, which allows the dongle to double as a portable storage device. You can recharge the device via a Micro-USB cable and Vodafone include one and a charging plug in the box.
Unlike the previous Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi dongle that was larger and squarer, there is no red light to tell you whether the device is on. You have to look at the screen for that now.
The screen is the key way of getting an idea of what is going on and here you get a stack of information such as connection speed, how many wireless devices you have connected (up to 5), battery life, cumulative data used, and time spent connected to the internet.
The last two allow you to have some indication of how much your phone bill will be, and whether you will go outside of your allotted quota.
Turn on the dongle, turn on Wi-Fi on your device. Punch in the password found on the inside of the R205 and away you go. It really is that easy.
Somewhat frustratingly, when your connection drops out - say when you are on a train - rather than fail to load the page in question, keeping the URL address you've entered intact, the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi is keen to push you to the device's homepage hub that lets you check your SMS messages or other connection stats. It's annoying.
Although there is very little setup needed, you can keep an eye on the workings of the device through a dedicated setup page that is accessed via your browser. Just as with the router on your home broadband connection, you can manage the device easily making sure it really is connected, access the microSD card you've inserted or collect your SMS messages.
You can also change the name of the Wi-Fi network so it's no longer VodafoneMobileWIFI-AD12356761, but something more useful to you.
We've taken the dongle on a number of test runs around Ascot and London to see how it performs. The new dongle promises faster speeds of up to 21Mbps. That's something the previous model can't, but it really does depend on where you are and whether Vodafone is even supporting that speed in the area where you are.
Travelling from Ascot to Waterloo, connection speeds achieved varied wildly depending on the time of day. Testing in on the commuter run is slower - most likely down to the level of other users on the train also vying for bandwidth. The R205 doesn't tell you connection speed data on the fly and we aren't interested in benchmarking it, as it depends on so many factors.
The same trip on an empty train proved to be a lot more successful, so it's worth bearing that in mind when you look to get a Wi-Fi device like this.
In London and the results were a lot better. The dongle lets you connect simply and easily and we were happy with the performance. As with your phone, you'll know whether or not some places are better for connection than others. Richmond-Upon-Thames station is awful for example, but 30 metres either side is really fast.
We got around four hours of Wi-Fi connection out of a single charge. That's okay, but not fantastic. You can use the device while charging from your laptop.
The Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205 costs £65 if you opt to buy it out right as a PAYG offering, although you will have to buy a £10 top-up SIM at the same time.
If you want to get it free you will have to sign up to an 18-month contract that will cost you £15 a month with 2GB of data.
Compared to Three's Mi-Fi package, you get a lot less data for your money. Three's Mi-Fi package is £18.99 a month for 24-months but you get a whopping 15GB of data.
It is worth checking what the coverage of Three is like in your area, and whether you really need that much data in the first place. If you are planning on watching YouTube videos on the go, or for the dongle to replace your home broadband package, then you will need the extra allowance. If you are just using it to catch up on emails on the go on your laptop, or iPad, then you won't.
If you've been waiting for a slightly better mobile Wi-Fi dongle from Vodafone with access to the faster speeds the operator offers, then this is the device for you.
In reality however you're unlikely to get the promised top speed - certainly if you commute in rush hours - and you're unlikely to see any improvements above and beyond the one that Vodafone has previously sold. Yes it is smaller and you will get your data usage on the device this time around.
So, if you're looking for a mobile hotspot, the R205 certainly doesn't disappoint, although there are better deals out there, if you're happy to try a network like Three.