Vodafone Mobile Connect 3G HSDPA USB Modem review: Vodafone Mobile Connect 3G HSDPA USB Modem

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The Good USB device works with XP and Mac OS X notebooks. Substantially boosts regular 3G speeds. Rated to 3.6Mbps throughput. On-the-fly data compression. Excellent client software.

The Bad Limited HSDPA coverage. Vodafone won't say where the HSDPA 3.6 cells are located.

The Bottom Line Vodafone's compact USB modem boosts accessibility to the telco's high-speed 3G mobile network — but the speed can range from over 2Mbps to less than 300Kbps depending on your location.

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8.0 Overall

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While the first iteration of 3G and HSDPA modems relied on the PC Card form factor, recent months have seen the arrival of USB alternatives for those users whose laptops are fitted with only an Express Card slot, or in some cases (such as Apple's popular MacBooks) no card slot at all.

There's also a bonus in the speed department. Like the USB modem of competitor BigPond Wireless Broadband, Vodafone's little white wireless wonder is rated for HSDPA at 3.6Mbps rather than the 1.8Mbps of its PC Card sibling. The trick is finding out where such speeds are available in Vodafone's admittedly patchy HSDPA network.

Manufactured by Chinese telecoms hardware giant Huawei, Vodafone's USB modem looks more like a soap-on-a-rope, or at least soap-on-a-USB-cable.

The palm-sized modem uses the USB mini-plug most commonly seen on portable USB hard drives and as the combo charge/data connector on smartphones. A 10cm cable connects the modem to the PC, although the bundle includes a more generous 80cm cable with a second USB plug for instances when a single port can't provide enough power to drive the modem.

The modem itself sports precious little in the way of frills and features. Most of the extra goodness in the Vodafone Mobile Connect package comes through the bundled software and the network's active data compression.

As detailed in our earlier review of the Vodafone 3G HSDPA PC Card, this pocket-sized puck works hand-in-hand with Vodafone's network to shrink some files — mainly pictures and documents — to a fraction of their size using on-the-fly compression.

Incoming files are automatically decompressed so there's no need to fiddle with third-party software. Users can also block bandwidth-bloating elements such as video, audio, animation and Web applets.

This enhances speed and makes the most of your monthly download allocation, although it's not ideal for everyone. For example, there's no way to prevent incoming data compression, which some Web developers have reported as an issue when working on the road. (You can, however, disable compression of files sent through your VMC card.)

We were also impressed by the card's software. With SMS and MMS messaging, address book management, connection profiles and a graphical summary of account usage, the console is easily the best client we've seen for any mobile data card.

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