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Back in August I looked at Vodafone’s Mobile Connect HSDPA data card, and although it performed brilliantly, it suffered slightly in the value stakes. The value issue stemmed from the fact that T-Mobile’s identical Web ‘n’ Walk Card offered significantly greater levels of data download at a lower price. But one thing that both the Vodafone and T-Mobile data cards have in common is that they need a notebook with a PC Card slot to function.
The PC Card standard has been with us for a very long time, and we’re finally starting to see notebook manufacturers move over to the faster Express Card standard. Unfortunately, if a notebook only has an Express Card slot, it means that existing PC Card devices, like data cards, can’t be used. Of course Vodafone could produce an Express Card version of its HSDPA card, but I’m guessing that the potential market is still too small to justify the investment. So, instead Vodafone has decided create a USB device, and the logic behind this decision is undeniable.
The Vodafone Mobile Connect Modem is a good looking bit of kit. Finished in glossy white plastic and shaped like a large, rounded lozenge, there are no prizes for guessing the design inspiration. In fact when you place the Mobile Connect Modem next to an Apple MacBook you could be forgiven for thinking that it was an Apple accessory. You see, since Apple moved across to an Intel platform for its notebooks, there has been no support for PC Card devices. The MacBook Pro only has an Express Card slot and the MacBook has no expansion slot at all, like the iBook before it. But it’s not just Apple notebooks that are appearing without PC Card slots, the HP Compaq Presario V6000 that we reviewed recently also only supported Express Card.
In the box you get the Mobile Connect Modem, a short USB to mini-USB cable and a longer twin USB to mini-USB cable, in case the device can’t pull enough juice from a single USB port. There’s a single indicator light on the modem which shows its connection status and the service to which it’s connected. At one end you’ll find a mini-USB port for connecting to a computer and in the side is a removable drawer for the SIM card.
One thing that you won’t find in the box is a driver CD, which highlights one of the inherent advantages of this USB device over its PC Card forebears. You see the Mobile Connect Modem has its drivers built in to the hardware. This means that if you wanted to use the device on a new notebook, you wouldn’t need to worry about having the driver disc with you, you could simply plug it into the USB port and the drivers would load automatically – at least they would if that notebook was running Windows. Unfortunately the automatic driver install doesn’t work with Apple Macs, and the driver needs to be downloaded from the Vodafone site before the Mobile Connect Modem can be used.