At its best we found the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205 produced download figures up to 9.1Mbit (1Mbit faster than the peak speed we attained with the MiFi), though in general speeds in areas of good reception ranged between 3Mbit and 4Mbit, less than the 5Mbit average we got with Three. The other significant point was signal strength with our unlocked iPhone 4S seemingly matching the R205 step for step and sometimes achieving signal in areas of weak reception where it could not. This came in direct contrast to the MiFi which consistently attained stronger signal than the 4S and often found a 3G signal and HSPA when the handset could not. This is strange given the shared chipset, so we can only speculate that different casing could be a factor, or more likely that signal on the two networks differs where we tested. Needless to say the results you achieve could also vary.
More tangible was the battery life, with the Mobile Wi-Fi R205 matching Vodafone's marketing and lasting up to four hours, a figure which could be brought down to a little over three hours 30 minutes with heavy usage. Again this falls short of the MiFi which claims up to six hours battery life and even with heavy usage we were able to make it last almost five hours. Also disappointing was the R205's lack of charging cradle, something that makes Three's MiFi easier to charge (and to remember to charge) between trips.
Where we were pleased with the R205 is its browser-based setup screen which is more intuitive and user friendly than the MiFi, though more technical users may find it takes more steps to change settings like the SSID, WiFi key, etc. In addition Vodafone offers a dedicated R205 app for Android and iOS which displays the information from the mobile WiFi's screen in a more digestible manner and lets you leave the R205 out of sight. We'd like to see this as standard on all such devices.
Sadly this pleasant surprise is followed by an equally unpleasant one. Vodafone has a strong reputation as a premium network, but it has priced the R205 out of reach for anyone other than those living in areas with poor Three reception. For £15pm on an 18 month contract Vodafone offers R205 customers just 2GB of data per month while a 30 day rolling contract also provides 2GB for £20 per month. By comparison Three provides 5GB of data per month for £18.99 over 18 months or 5GB of data per month for £15.99pm and £49.99 up front on its rolling monthly contract. Even on Pay As You Go the R205 has no advantage. On pre-pay it costs £75 and comes with 500MB of data while the Three MiFi costs £85, but comes with 3GB of data.
All of which means, despite giving the Three MiFi a new rival, we can't honestly say the Vodafone R205 provides genuine competition…
Vodafone's long awaited HSPA mobile WiFi is sadly something of a letdown. It gets most of the ingredients right with an informative screen, microSD card support, an intuitive browser-based setup screen and dedicated Android and iOS apps but pricing is very high. In addition we found no consistent performance benefit to justify these costs over Three's network. This was compounded by weak battery life and the lack of a bundled charge cradle. Over to you Orange, T-Mobile and O2…