Not too long ago, I reviewed the Vodafone Mobile Connect 3G data card and decided that it was an invaluable tool for anyone that needs to stay connected on the move. One of the things that made the Mobile Connect so great was that the tarrif prices dropped considerably while I was in the process of testing it. The reason for the drop in tarrif price was increased competition, and with this in mind I thought that I better look at the Orange 3G data card, snappily named the Mobile Office Card.
I didnâ€™t expect there to be a huge amount of difference between the Vodafone and Orange data card offerings, but I realised that this assumption was far from correct. Letâ€™s start with the way the cards look, although Iâ€™m well aware that this isnâ€™t going to be enough to sway anyoneâ€™s buying decision. The Vodafone card is bright red, showing off the corporate colours, while the Orange card is black with a square orange badge on it. They both protrude about the same amount from the side of your notebook, but at first I thought that the Orange card didnâ€™t have a connector for a booster antenna. Flipping the card onto its back I spotted a small plastic bung which hides the antenna connector. Not only does this placement of the connector make it more difficult to plug in an antenna, but it also leaves you with a small plastic bung lying around that youâ€™re bound to lose at some point.
Another slightly disappointing aspect about the Orange Mobile Office Card is that it doesnâ€™t come in a protective case like the Vodafone card. OK, perhaps this is a small point, but I like the fact that I can keep the Vodafone card in my bag protected by its figure hugging plastic case. If you want to keep the Orange card protected, youâ€™ll have to carry it around in its DVD style case, which will add a fair bit of bulk to your bag. Of course you could leave the card in your notebook, but then it does stick out and could cause damage to your PC Card slot.
Loading up the software for the Mobile Office Card was pretty painless, leaving you to just insert the card and get going. The Orange launch application is quite small, and isnâ€™t as instantly intuitive as the Vodafone version, but looks and ease of use are only a small part of the problem. With the Vodafone card, once youâ€™re connected you can do anything from browse the Internet to send text messages, but the way that Orange has set its application up you can only do one thing at a time. If I choose to connect to the Internet, thatâ€™s all that the card will be able to do. So, if I decide that I need to send an SMS while Iâ€™m browsing, that message will just sit there in my outbox until I disconnect from the Internet. The minute that the Internet connection is dropped, your SMS will be sent.
I would say that the modular nature of the Mobile Office Card software is the most bizarre part of the package, but it isnâ€™t. Without a doubt, the most bizarre and misguided part of the package is the signal strength indicator. Now, weâ€™re all used to signal strength indicators because every mobile phone has one â€“ itâ€™s a little gauge with bars, that tells you how much signal strength you have at that moment, so youâ€™re probably wondering how Orange could have got this feature wrong. But the signal strength indicator on the Mobile Office Card doesnâ€™t show you how strong your signal is at that moment, oh no â€“ to quote the manual â€œThe more bars showing the stronger the signal. This will not alter while a connection is in progress; it will show the signal strength when you first launched the application.â€ Yep, thatâ€™s right, the signal strength indicator doesnâ€™t show you your current signal strength, but instead shows you how good your signal was an hour ago when you connected. This is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that you could be using your notebook on a train, so youâ€™re being told what the signal strength was like at another time and in another place. I just canâ€™t imagine what would have posessed Orange to implement this, but what you end up with is a signal strength indicator that is as good as useless.