The dongle also has two other interesting features hidden behind a pair of flip-out plastic covers. The first is a special socket that lets you use it with an external aerial to improve reception in dodgy signal areas. Most people won’t need this, but it may come in useful for those using mobile broadband at home as a replacement for a fixed-line service in areas where the signal is not as robust as it could be. The second flip-out cover opens to reveal a microSD card slot. This allows the dongle to act as a microSD card reader or alternatively you can just keep it permanently loaded up with a card and let the dongle double as a USB memory key.
The stick is actually a rebadged Huawei Mobile Connect E160E. It supports a maximum download speed of 3.6Mbit/s via HSDPA (or 3g+ as Orange calls it), but will also connect using 3G, Edge, GPRS and GSM according to what type of signal is available in the location where you’re trying to use it.
Unfortunately in our test location in east London Orange has relatively poor coverage compared to other networks like T-mobile, O2 and Vodafone. As a result it frequently skipped between HSDPA, 3G and GPRS data download speeds, which was annoying. Here the maximum download speed it could achieve was 1.1Mbit/s. However, when using it out and about in the middle of London it performed reasonably well, clocking up a top speed of 2.2Mbit/s. However, more often than not it connected at around the 1Mbit/s mark, which is pretty much par for the course with mobile broadband in our experience.
When you’ve got good reception the service feels pretty sprightly for day-to-day surfing and certainly has enough speed to let you comfortably stream video reviews from TrustedReviews or shows from BBC iPlayer. You can check the coverage for your postcode online and Orange will also let you return the product within two weeks if you don’t think the coverage is good enough in your area.