Hands on: Vodafone Pocket WiFi | Wifi Walker, J B Chaparal Properties

Hands on: Vodafone Pocket WiFi

Vodafone Pocket WiFi.

Vodafone Pocket WiFi.

A hotspot in your pocket often makes more sense than a USB mobile broadband stick.

These days you probably own a few portable gadgets which benefit from wifi access, such as notebooks, tablets, eBook readers and handheld games consoles. Sharing your Internet access between all these devices while you’re on the road can be a hassle, which is where a mobile hotspot comes in handy – linking to a mobile network and generating a wifi hotspot so your gadgets can get online.

There are a number of wifi hotspots on the market, but Vodafone’s Pocket WiFi caught my eye due to its display. Rather than relying on cryptic flashing lights, the Pocket WiFi provides details of battery life, network signal strength, the type of network, the number of connected wifi devices and unread text messages. More importantly, the display reveals how much data you’ve used during the current session – which is important considering the hefty excess usage fees on most mobile broadband plans.

The Vodafone Pocket WiFi is a rebadged Huawei E585, which is available form several different providers under different names. It supports 7.2 Mbps HSDPA mobile networks, so it’s not as fast as some USB modems but still should meet most people’s needs.

One of the great things about the Pocket WiFi is that it’s a 802.11b/g-capable device supporting WPA2 encryption, which is as secure as a home wifi network. It’s a step up from many smartphone-based hotspots which only support the old WEP standard. Another thing I like is that it comes with both an AC adaptor and a USB cable for charging, and you can continue to use it as a wifi hotspot while it’s charging. You can slip it into your bag for easy wifi access while you’re in a cafe, or plug it into the wall when you want to set up a mobile office. Its rounded edges mean you can also slip it in your pocket without fear of scratching other devices.

It’s easy to configure the Pocket WiFi via your browser, which also offers access to the microSD card slot along with an SMS interface for sending and receiving messages. Once configured the Pocket WiFi is simple to use – just turn it on and give it around 45 seconds to power up, acquire the network and generate a wifi network. For me this is less hassle than messing around with software to control a USB modem, although you might prefer using such software if you’re regularly using the SMS features.

The only frustration you’re likely to encounter with the Pocket WiFi is the reliability of the mobile network. Vodafone has taken quite a hammering of late over network performance but it hasn’t been too bad in my neck of the ‘burbs. I’m very happy that my iPhone is on Telstra’s NextG, but I prefer to keep my mobile broadband with another network as a safeguard against one network going down and leaving me completely cut off. If Vodafone lets me down, I can always fallback on tethering my notebook to my iPhone.

UPDATE: Yes, it’s also possible to turn your smartphone into a wifi hotspot. Even Apple is finally bringing this feature to the iPhone although, as with tethering, it seems your telco will have control over how you use it. For some people this will eliminate the need for a separate mobile broadband connection. Even if my phone could act as a wifi hotspot, I’d still prefer to have a pocket wifi hotspot running on another network as a fallback.

On a plan, Vodafone’s Pocket WiFi is not much more expensive that a USB modem so if you’re starting a new plan then upgrading to the Pocket WiFi could be a no-brainer. If you’re worried about network performance, you might consider unlocking it or buying it outright so you can swap SIM cards as required.

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