TNW Mobile review: Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi

TNW Mobile review: Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi

As we become increasingly reliant on Internet connected gadgets, the idea of having your own ‘wi-fi bubble’ around you throughout the day is increasingly seductive.

The latest device to offer just that in the UK is Vodafone’s new R201 Mobile Wi-Fi unit. Competing against the latest MiFi from 3UK, how does “Big Red”‘s solution shape up?

Measuring 90 x 60 x 12mm, it’s about the size of a small mobile phone and fits easiliy into a trouser pocket. Initial setup is a breeze; just pop off the back, slide in your SIM and after a first-time full battery charge, you’re ready to go.

If you’re going to use a mobile wi-fi unit, you don’t want it to become a major hassle. Ideally it should work seamslessly, providing a connection without any headaches to make it work.Thankfully, I found Vodafone’s solution completely unintrusive as I worked at my desk, on the sofa at freinds’ houses, on the bus and in cafés. Simply flick the device on and in under a minute you’re ready to go. High-speed trains were a sometimes a problem due to the fast movement between cell towers and occasional ‘holes’ in coverage causing the connection to break, however.

What makes the R201 a particularly useful choice compared to 3UK’s alternative is its connectivity. While the Three MiFi will only connect at 3G and above, Vodafone’s unit will offer a data connection on everything from a GPRS connection, through 3G and right up to HSDPA at speeds of up to 7.2mbps. Coupled with Vodafone’s larger coverage map, the R201 is likely to be the better choice for most users demanding “more brs in more places”.

The R201 will connect up to five devices a once, although connection speed and battery life will suffer if you do max out the connectivity. Battery life itself won’t blow you away, but on the move with two or three devices connected at all times I got four and a half hours’ use out of a full battery charge. That’s not a unreasonable for devices of this type. It charges over USB as well as the mains, so if you’re using it with a computer you can just plug the R201 into a free port and give it a quick battery boost to extend its life.

On a personal note, I was interested to see if the R201 would allow me to ditch my mobile data contract and simply use mobile wifi for my phone, laptop, iPad and anything I needed it for. For connection speed and convenience, the R201 certainly fits the bill but it’s still ‘one more thing to charge’, meaning I wouldn’t want to rely on it to receive email and tweets on the go as a replacement for my phone’s cellular data signal.

That said, if you’re currently using a mobile broadband dongle, this could be a great alternative. If you like to share your connection or if you’re thinking of splashing out on another device like an iPad to carry around with you it could be ideal. No need to spend extra on a 3G model, just buy a Wi-Fi version and take this with you!

The only real let down with Vodafone’s current offering is the pricing. There’s no ‘pay as you go’ option, meaning you’ll need to sign up to an 18 month contract at £15, £20 or £25 per month Still, the contracts are generous enough for most people, with usage limits varying between 3GB and 5GB. The initial device cost runs from free to £49.

Fickle commitment-phobes like me may bemoan the lack of prepay options, but I can honestly say that I was impressed enough to seriously consider splashing out on Vodafone’s Mobile Wi-Fi solution.

Read next: Announcing the official TNW iPhone App.

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