During the Spanish Inquisition's hilarious reign of terror, if you'd whipped out a laptop and started browsing the Internet in a field, you'd definitely get hanged for witchcraft. Centuries later and the idea of accessing the Web on a laptop from a field, quarry, swamp or indeed anywhere outdoors is still peculiar, but in a tantalising and not a blasphemous way -- and with a dongle it's not that expensive either.
All you have to do is connect a 3G USB modem (they look disturbingly like tampon applicators, but there you go) to your laptop, and hey presto you're online. Indistinguishable from magic, this sufficiently advanced technology uses the same networks your mobile phone does, allowing you to access the Net at high speeds -- up to 2Mbps -- anywhere there's network coverage.
The high-street retailers claim 3G USB dongles are flying off the shelves, but before you join the wireless masses, make sure to shop around. At the moment all the major networks have some kind of data dongle offering, but pricing differs greatly from one network to another.
One of the cheapest deals at the moment is from 3, which offers 3GB a month with a free USB modem for only £15 per month. 3 is the only provider to offer the £15 deal on an 18-month contract with a free dongle, while other networks, such as Vodafone, ask you to sign up for at least 24 months or pay extra for the dongle.
3 also offers a pay-as-you-go USB modem for £100, plus a 30-day bundle costing from £10 for 1GB allowance (equivalent to 60 songs), £15 for 3GB (200 songs) or £25 for 7GB (400 songs). T-Mobile's pay-as-you-go deal works out at £100 for the USB modem and £4 a day for 3GB over a month.
Be warned: you don't want to go dongular if you're a power downloader who gorges on vast swathes of ancient Monty Python clips -- but if you're after a simple way of surfing the Web halfway up a hill or getting your email when you're picnicing, it's an easy way to stay connected. -Andrew Lim