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Back in September 2004 I reviewed the Vodafone Mobile Connect 3G data card, and was amazed at how useful it was. As someone that's often having to work while out and about, the ability to get online from pretty much anywhere was something of a Godsend. Back then, the 384kbps download speed was impressive, with most home broadband users lucky to get 1mbps connections at the time. But the big turning point was the launch of HSDPA, which offered 1.8mbps on the move and really did give you broadband speeds while sitting in the park, or a coffee shop.
The big breakthrough came when Vodafone launched its Mobile Connect USB Modem back in November 2006. This device married the online-anywhere performance of the PC Card offering, with the flexibility of USB. Not only was the USB Modem compatible with any device that supported USB, including Apple Macs, it also had the device drivers embedded (at least for Windows). The result was an HSDPA device that you simply plugged into a USB port without the need for a driver CD to get it working.
Back in November Vodafone launched its new HSDPA USB Modem, nicknamed The Pebble. Not only did the new model have a sleek and stylish design that was bound to appeal to MacBook users, but it was also rated at 7.2mbps. Unfortunately when The Pebble launched there wasn't much in the way of 7.2mbps coverage, so I didn't get a chance to review it. But a couple of weeks ago Vodafone launched another 7.2mbps USB HSDPA device, this time called the USB Modem Stick, and this time I was able to put it through its paces.
As its name suggests, this latest HSDPA device from Vodafone resembles a traditional USB memory stick, although a pretty big one by today's standards. As such, there is no need for connection cables, with the device itself sliding straight into a USB port. It's also worth mentioning that absent minded users need not worry about losing the cap to the USB Modem Stick, since it's cleverly tethered to the device, thus making it impossible to lose without employing the services of something sharp. If your notebook can't accommodate a large USB device - like the woefully under-featured MacBook Air - you can use a USB extension cable, and you'll find one in the box with the Vodafone USB Modem Stick.
Like the original Mobile Connect USB Modem that I reviewed, the USB Modem Stick is a plug and play device. Simply plug it into a Windows PC / notebook and it will automatically install the required drivers and configure itself - it really is that easy. If you're a Mac user however, you're still going to have to install the drivers from the supplied CD before you can use the device. The beautiful thing about having the drivers (for Windows at least) embedded on the device is that you can easily transfer the USB Modem Stick to pretty much any PC with ease. If you need to download something to a friend's notebook, but you're out and about, you can simply plug the USB Modem Stick in, let it auto configure and then just fire up a browser.