The modem is the same model from Huawei that’s used by both Vodafone and T-Mobile, and is a smallish smart white oval. Black ones will be available from 7th December, but this more in vogue colour will be a limited edition of only 2000. 3 is also offering ‘skinable’ dongles, available in various colours and patterns, so if you’ve always hankered after a 3G data dongle with a Union Jack or pink polka dots, now’s your chance. Business executives, start queuing now.
There’s a small plastic insert on one side for a plastic cover onto, in which 3 has placed its branding. There’s a small slot in the side for the SIM card, and a mini USB connector at the end. In the box you’ll find a short USB cable, and a longer one that has two connectors at the end, should you hook it up to something that can’t deliver enough power over one port.
The light flashes green when it’s connecting and displays a different colour depending on the speed at which you’re connected – light blue for HSDPA, blue for standard 3G and green for GPRS. Another major bonus of having a USB device is that the modem has some flash memory inside, on which the drivers are preinstalled – making it a plug and play experience. The first time you plug it in you have to wait for the device to be recognised as a virtual CD-ROM drive but after the first time it’s a quicker process. Even so, when you plug it in you have to wait a few seconds for your machine to recognise it.
Ironically on the Mac though, it’s not simply a case of plug and play. In fact, far from it – you have to download a PDF containing complicated instructions, and you have to manually enter details – not really what you’d expect as a Mac user. While it’s good that there’s Mac support, a better user experience would have been appreciated.
When connected via HSDPA, Windows informs you that you’ve connected at 3.6Mbps – despite the fact that the maximum potential speed of the service is 2.8Mbps. This is because the hardware itself can support 3.6Mbps, and means that when the network is upgraded further the hardware should be ready, but Windows is a little misleading at this stage. Once you’re connected, the modem software interface fires up. To be honest the software doesn’t look particularly slick, but then 3’s market is rather more consumer. It provides basic information regarding your data usage, your maximum transfer speed during that session and your total data downloaded. If you remember to rest this you can keep tabs on how close you are to your data limit. Once you’re over your allotted allowance, 3 charges 10p per megabtye.
At the TrustedReviews offices I was just able to connect at no more than standard 3G speeds – so that’s 384Kbps, but at home I was in a ‘Turbo’ region, potentially giving me the full 2.8Mbps. I also tested when out and about such as while hanging around at Heathrow airport.