Wi-Fi hotspots aren't typically pretty creatures, but Vodafone's Pocket WiFi Extreme (actually a rebadged Huawei product) at least tries hard, with a small LCD screen surrounded by a whole lot of battery capacity. Slots at the side cover microSD storage and SIM card insertion, and a big, friendly power button on the front makes it easy to turn on. It's amongst the heftier of hotspots. It's not quite to the extent of Optus' 4G Hotspot, but it's a close-run thing, and something that might give you pause for thought if you're planning on stuffing the Pocket WiFi Extreme into your pants or blouse pocket, because it's going to bulge quite a bit.
At the time of writing, Vodafone has only commenced testing 4G —— rather than offering a consumer-end product, and that means the Pocket WiFi Extreme's version of Extreme is constrained by what you can do with 3G networks, with the Pocket WiFi Extreme topping out at HSPA+ speeds, typically expressed at around 42Mbps peak download. Vodafone's current testing figures suggest that when it can get 4G up and running, it may have a solidly fast product, but the Pocket WiFi Extreme's sitting in a last-generation technology space compared to the long-term evolution (LTE) offerings of Telstra and Optus.
One thing that Vodafone has had over its competition for some time is a quality interface for its mobile products, and the Pocket WiFi Extreme is no exception. It's a web-based interface, as you'd expect from a Wi-Fi router, and it's cleanly and logically laid out, with links to Vodafone's own help pages and a simple summary of current connection conditions.
There are a few key metrics for any mobile broadband network, but testing them is perilous stuff, simply because there's so many variables that can affect one test in one location. So we hit the road and tested seven different mobile devices across six sites to try to get a more complete picture of mobile broadband performance in two capital cities. Why capital cities and not regional zones? Partly, that's a factor of time, but also so that we could get a picture of 4G zones — and right now, Optus is concentrating mostly on capitals for its 4G — as well as the issues that congestion can introduce into a network.