Telco data allowances are swelling, and with these new monster-sized data caps comes the need to share the data you pay for with the multiple internet-capable devices you own. After all, if you lug an iPad, smartphone and laptop with you on the train to work each day you a) have a really big bag, and b) don't want to be paying for multiple internet connections.
We've seen a number of portable Wi-Fi hotspots lately, and we're even starting to see phones that can behave like a Wi-Fi hotspot, but something tells us the Pocket WiFi is one of the units we'll remember first when we think about this niche category. Why? It has a lot to do with design.
Up until we saw the Pocket WiFi all of the wireless hotspots we have reviewed had one thing in common: LED lights. Red ones, blue ones, green ones, and ones with several shades of yellow blinking and attempting to indicate the status of the modem using something akin to rainbow-coloured Morse code. Pocket WiFi is the first we've seen with an LED display, and it's a godsend. Now for the first time we can see signal strength, the remaining battery life and whether we've connected to HSDPA of a super-slow 2G service. There is also a few extra pieces of information displayed; there's the number of devices currently connected (great to be sure no one else on the train is leeching your data) and there's a counter that keeps track of how much data you've used in that session.
For more advanced usage details and settings, you can access a web portal for your modem by typing http://pocket.wifi into the URL of your browser once you're connected. The interface is clean and easy to use, even on the small screen of a smartphone.
As with all wireless broadband products, our test results reflect a number of factors, primarily the service we experienced from the telco in our test areas. Pocket WiFi is Vodafone exclusive in Australia and our test SIM was generously donated by Vodafone for the trial. The modem is rated at a maximum of 7.2Mbps, a speed no one outside of Voda's test team is likely to see.
We managed an average line speed of about 1.3Mbps on two separate devices simultaneously, and the same average speed when these devices ran speed tests one after the other. Pocket WiFi also performed well when placed in a different room and about 5 metres away from the connected smartphones and laptops, and, according to Vodafone, it is capable of supporting up to five simultaneous data connections. Battery life came out at just under five hours with a mixture of data transfers and standby power use.
Performance-wise, Pocket WiFi is on par with competing products available through Virgin Mobile and , but the addition of the LED screen gives this latest device the edge. Having quick access to important information is far more preferable than trying to decipher the consistency of flashing, coloured lights. It is also a little cheaper too; for AU$119 you get a locked modem and a Vodafone prepaid SIM with 1GB of data to use.