Just the travel ticket for staying in touch
REVIEW: The idea behind Vodafone's R208 is simple: it takes the signal from a 3G network, the same network that you connect to using your mobile phone, to create a mobile wi-fi hotspot that you can connect up to 10 devices to and access the internet or other internet-based services.
It's a small and compact device, not much bigger than a smart phone, and it acts like a wi-fi router that you'd have at home. It weighs in at around 145 grams, so it's lightweight as well, and has a microSD card slot and a button for WPS connection.
I tested the unit while on holiday in the Queen Charlotte and Pelorus sounds, where you can go from three bars of coverage on your phone one minute to none the next. In one bach we stayed at, I'd get a good mobile connection near the dinner table, propping the device up on a window frame, but move to the back porch for some sun and the signal would drop completely.
So, how would Vodafone's R208 work in such conditions? Pretty well, actually.
The R208 is simple to set up. Turn on the device, find it in the list of discoverable devices on the 802.11.b or g-compliant device you want to connect to, key in the SSID code and password (handily printed on the unit itself and on a small piece of card) then connect. The R208 connected to my smart phone, tablet and PS Vita easily, as well as my wife's Mac Book Pro. A connection test with the Vita at our second residence in Queen Charlotte Sound gave a download speed of 365.9kbps and an upload speed of 323.2kbps - acceptable, I thought, given the connection reliability of where I was staying.
The R208 also handled a Skype call from Ngakuta Bay, in the Queen Charlotte Sound, to our still-in-Christchurch daughter. Its connection remained steady even if her enthusiasm for chatting to us didn't.
Back in Christchurch, I was interested to see how the R208 fared in a more connection-stable environment, so tested the connection using my smart phone from our inner Christchurch CBD office using Ookla's speed test android app. It averaged a ping time of 57ms, a download speed of 3089kbps and an upload speed of 2535kbps. Vodafone tells me the R208 will also make the most of the company's high-speed DC-HSPA network, which is available in Auckland, Wellington and parts of Christchurch.
The R208 has an LCD screen that displays a variety of statistics including how long you've been connected, signal strength, data usage, battery status and how many devices are connected, and there's also an iOS and Android app that provides the same information, but in a much more visually pleasing format.
Though I used the R208 mainly for web browsing and checking emails (and the Skype call), I also used it to download a sizeable game patch - I wanted to see how it handled a large download - so probably used more data that a normal user would during an average month but even with a weak connection in Queen Charlotte Sound it downloaded the 400Mb patch comfortably (it was slow but it managed it).
I loved the R208, not only because of its portablity and size (it fitted nicely into my PS Vita's carry case) but because it was easy to set up and connect devices to, and had great battery life.
It seems perfect for people who want a constantly reliable 3G wi-fi connection when they're travelling, be that for work or for a holiday. Actually, it seems just the ticket for motor home owners or at the camp site when you want to get connected easily while you're away.
Vodafone R208 mobile wi-fi ($199, device only)
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