It's a sign of the times that we increasingly take connectivity for granted. A few years ago, we wouldn't have expected for our PDAs or laptop to be able to get online unless it was plugged in - now we balk at a product that doesn't have wireless data capabilities. I can clearly remember reviewing one of the earliest notebooks with integrated Wi-Fi and now the age of integrated mobile phone SIM cards has arrived. Back in April, Riyad reviewed the first notebook we'd seen with an integrated HSDPA data card, from Fujitsu Siemens but supporting networks weren't up and running at the time. Now they are, and with a Vodafone data SIM inside this Acer Aspire 5650 notebook we were keen to see what it was like to use.
HSDPA is essentially an improved variant of 3G, dubbed by Vodafone as ‘3G broadband’. It offers connection speeds of up to 1.8Mbit/sec compared to only 384Kbit/sec from standard 3G. The advantage of having integrated data card in a notebook is that it brings true mobile connectivity as you can connect to the Internet anywhere you can get a reasonable mobile phone signal. You no longer have to go find a Wi-Fi hotspot in a cafe; you can just go to the park and open up. It's a truly liberating experience. Riyad will be reviewing the Vodafone HSDPA data card soon so I won't steal his thunder but suffice to say that it does make a huge difference.
Initially when testing I was only able to connect at standard 3G speeds. Being able to download and browse the Internet while out of range of the office Wi-Fi was impressive, but when I did get HSDPA working it felt truly liberating and it was great to not have a large card sticking out of the side of the notebook. Of course, it's coverage dependant but although the press releases claimed that it would only work inside the M25 as well as other some other major cities, it worked fine by the TR offices out in Ascot.
The SIM card is inserted in a slot in the battery compartment and you then have to enable the connection by flicking a slider switch on the front of the notebook. The Vodafone mobile connect software is pretty good and gives usage details so you can keep track of how much your downloading. You'll need to keep an eye on this as with this kind of speed it could be easy for you to go over your allowance. The speed is better than many people's fixed line broadband connections and I soon found myself downloading updates and programs for the fun of it.
The notebook’s build quality is pretty good but it's on the heavy side at 2.92Kg. This isn't really suited then for portability. Unfortunately, as ever, Acer did its usual trick of supplying press samples that don't correspond exactly to what will be available to buy. Our review unit sported 2GB of RAM and a 120GB hard disk, whereas for the price quoted it will only ship with 1GB and a 100GB hard disk so bear that in mind when looking at our benchmark scores.