30 November 2008

A review of the Huawei E160G 3G modem on 3

Work has been exceptionally dictatorial about its internet usage of late, and with the pre-existing ban on the use of Facebook and eBay at work newly supplemented with a log of all the websites one visits, it was enough to tip me over into getting my own mobile broadband access. As you may know from my previous post, I have an MSI Wind which I have been using as my primary on-the-go computing device for a while now. Ironically, however, while it is a netbook, when I take it out of the house I rarely used it to surf the net, mainly because it is quite difficult nowadays to find an open WiFi access point. My new 3G modem has definitely changed all that.

I did a quick search on the net and knew that I could get a fairly good deal from 3. At their web shop they are offering 3GB downloads for £15 a month. With a bit of digging though, I signed up for a contract giving me 5GB of downloads a month for £7.50. It is over 18 months though, so I hope it works out! The bonus of a £10 accessories voucher was also appreciated!

I received my dongle on Wednesday. It is a Huawei E160G in black, and rather sleek it is too. I used to carry a USB thumbdrive on my keychain, and this resembles it closely, although it is thicker, longer and wider. I did try to attach it to my keychain but as it kept stabbing me whenever I sat down, I abandoned that idea pretty quickly. The other main complaint is that if it is shaped like something you could put on a keychain, why does it not have a keychain loop? Instead it has one of those tiny little holes which it is even difficult to fit a regular mobile phone lanyard through. Rather bad design on Huawei's part I must say.

Apart from the size and the lack of a decent method of attachment, the modem itself is quite attractive. It has a rubberized outer coating with a 3 logo printed in white at one end. Just behind the logo and underneath a thinner piece of plastic is the status LED which glows through the enclosure. Pretty cool. The dongle itself is three-quarters encircled by a chrome edge in which there are two flaps: one is for an external antenna, while the other accepts a microSD card. I was quite surprised at this as I already carry an 8GB thumbdrive and the fact that this can take on that role is a bit of a bonus. Indeed I put my 8GB microSDHC into the slot and it is definitely SDHC compatible.

At the top, under the cap is the USB port and a small tray for the SIM card. The dongle is pretty chunky, and it comes supplied with a USB extension cord so that, if your USB ports are closely spaced, you don't end up blocking two of them. On my MSI Wind I end up plugging the dongle straight into the port on the right, with the left ports being used for my RF portable mouse and the USB thumbdrive. It works out quite well.

Another interesting feature of the dongle is that when you insert it into a PC it mounts as a CD ROM drive and proceeds to install the software. The process is fairly straightforward as it is done through a wizard, but it was slightly annoying that the moment it was loaded, the program told me that an update was available, and it went on line, to get it. This prompted a total uninstall of the original software and a reinstall. Honestly, you'd think it would be trivial to update the modem with the latest software. The microSD reader component mounts as a separate USB drive.

Once everything is up and running, which does take a while, you are confronted with a big orange button you click on to connect. At home I found that I had a 6/10 bar HSDPA connection with a theoretical maximum of 3.6MBps download speed. The modem itself does not support the higher speed HSPA network. In reality, however, and I know that this is contingent on place and time, I was getting measly download speed of only 160kbps, and uploads of 52kbps! Obviously this is sorely disappointing, because it does preclude some of the things you take for granted on the internet like streaming video. That means no YouTube and no iPlayer. I've not read the fine print about whether or not this is permissible anyway under the terms and conditions, but it is clearly not physically possible. Instant messaging is fine and VoIP struggles but does work. No video conferencing though.

So, how do I feel so far? Well, I love the freedom that a wireless modem affords, and I like that 5GB really is more than I need so I don't really have to think about it. It has certainly changed my mobile computing patterns, and I find I am answering more emails, and updating my Facebook profile with greater frequency. My only wish is that I bought a netbook with a modem built into it. While not terribly inconvenient, the dongle does take up one precious USB port and it sticks out a mile! And I live in fear that it will get nicked if I leave it plugged in when I am away from the desk. Overall I am happy with it. Let's see how it develops.