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Mobile broadband speeds are getting faster and faster, coverage is better and better, and prices continue to fall so there's never been a better time to make that laptop of yours truly mobile. The latest addition to the myriad options available is this new USB modem available from Virgin Media, which the company claims can reach download speeds of 7.2Mbps. Let's see how it fares.
There's no two ways about it, a USB dongle just isn't the most exciting thing to behold but for what it's worth, Virgin Media has at least made this one look attractive in a simple way with its sparkly black livery. There's the inevitable flashing LED on the top but unlike some it actually shows some useful information: blue shows it's powered on, green that it's connected to HSPA, and red that it's connected to GPRS. Flashing shows it's trying to connect or searching for a network.
As most of these devices continue to be, this is quite bulky compared to your average modern day USB storage stick so you may struggle to fit it in alongside other USB devices if the sockets are close together and it's easy to knock when plugged into the side of a laptop. Given this is a common complaint it's hardly something to get hung up on though.
More annoying is the cap that's not tethered so will inevitably get lost, as ours did. In the grand scheme of things, it's unlikely to sway you from one USB modem to the next, being as they're so tariff and network dependent, but considering how basic a feature this is, it is particularly aggravating when absent. It doesn't even need to be anything clever, just include a little loop on the cap and one on the body. You can even leave us to provide the string!
Virgin Media has at least addressed one practical aspect: it has eliminated the need to carry around two USB sticks. If you pop a microSD card (up to 16GB cards are supported) into the slot hidden under a flap in the side, you can access your files and move them from computer to computer from the one stick. There isn't, however, a socket for an extension aerial (to better pickup a signal) as found on the Huawei Mobile Connect E160E, used on Orange mobile broadband tariffs. Nor indeed does Virgin Media provide a USB extension cable as Orange does.