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Pop_2 I am sure most people have noticed there has been a big push by the big mobile phone companies recently towards selling mobile broadband.

Most new mobiles come with 3G and some form of a web browser and most companies sell some form of web access on top of the normal phone contracts. Companies like O2, T-Mobile and Vodafone are also pushing the independent mobile broadband devices where you pay anything from £15+ per month for xGb usage.

This relatively new and compeatative market has led most mobile companies to try and lure the buyer in with free laptops or netbooks if you sign up for a set period of time.

I must admit I have been a bit skeptical about it all, I have had mobile Internet on my past 2 phones. I had Web ‘n’ Walk from T-Mobile on my Tytn and now I have a bolt on from O2 on my E90 and while I do find it useful I get the feeling the performance is not nearly as good as it is made out to be, nor do I use it as much as I would expect.

Anyway recently I have had chance to try out one of Vodafone’s offers. It is the £30 a month mobile broadband with free Dell Inspiron Mini 9.

The contract is for 24 months and the download speed is up to 3.6 Mbps with an upload up to 384Kbps.

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Review

I received the Mini 9 last Friday so I have had some time to play with it.

The specification of the Dell is:

  1. Intel® Atom Processor® N270 (1.6GHz/533Mhz FSB/512K cache)
  2. Windows® XP Home Edition
  3. Glossy 8.9 inch LED display (1024X600)
  4. 512MB2 DDR2 at 533MHz
  5. 4GB3 Solid State Drive
  6. Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950
  7. Wireless 802.11g Mini Card
  8. 32WHr Battery (4 cell) (Over 4 hours battery life claimed)

Pop_1My initial impression of the Mini 9 were simply its size, I have a 15" Acer and the Mini 9 in literally mini in comparison. My winter coat has massive pockets on it and I can nearly fit the Mini 9 in one of them.

The general look of the Mini 9 is quite basic, it has a glossy shell and it is quite plasticy though you can hardly expect an aluminium casing when the Mini 9  only costs around £250 to buy without a mobile broadband contract. The general build quality does feel excellent.

On booting the Dell I was a bit surprised to see Vodafone have chosen to use Windows. These devices are only really designed to be used on the Internet and for basic activities so Ubuntu would of been more than adequate and it would of reduced the cost for Vodafone.

The initial boot up of Windows did seem very slow which was a bit of a shock as I was expecting it to be much faster as it uses a solid state drive, however this was likely due to the limitations of the processor rather than the SSD. I also found the machine was installed with a lot of the crap associated with Dell computers including Mcafee, Dell’s Support Center, Dells Video conferencing etc etc. I am sure all of this will certainly be slowing down the boot time.

Vodafone have only added one piece of software to manage their 3G connections.

The keyboard on the Dell is very small, which is no surprise. I wouldn’t want to be typing out a novel on their, however it is still quite usable, the only problem I really had was the right hand shift key as it really is tiny and I always use this key when typing the @ symbol so I frequently made mistakes.

Pop_4The Screen of the Dell is good, the resolution is 1024X600 so you can comfortably browse the Internet. It is nice and bright though one downside is that it is glossy. To be fair most laptops now use a glossy screen but considering these netbooks are designed for mobility you would think some consideration would be taken for outdoor use. Unfortunately if you are outdoors in the sun viewing the screen can be very hard.

The dell also came with the usual ports and inputs, there were 3x USB, 1x VGA, Ethernet, Card Reader, and audio jacks. I was quite impressed it has 3x USB ports as you would think it wouldn’t have room for this many.

The general performance of the Dell was actually quite good. Granted there was a bit of a delay in starting up but once running I was able to do everything I wanted, I was happily running Firefox with half a dozen tabs open and I had a few apps running in the background. I also played an AVI in VLC and it played smoothly. I didn’t have any HD files to play but I suspect it would start struggling a bit here.

Finally I found the battery life to be quite good, I had a meeting on Monday in Manchester. I used the Dell on the journey to and from it which was about 2.5 hours in total and the battery was still going. I am not sure if it would last past 4 hours though my use was quite heavy and I did have a 3G connection at the time as well.

Overall I found the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 to be an excellent little netbook and I plan on using it for the foreseeable future on any trips I go on. It can easily handle any daily task while being extremely portable. Yes there are a couple of little issues but they are certainly not big enough to put you off it.

Vodafone Mobile Broadband Review

vodafone-logo So now we know that the Dell is a great little netbook how does Vodafone’s mobile broadband handle?

Surprisingly very well, connecting to the Vodafone network is a simple task, you just load up thei mobile connect software wait for it to find a connection, click connect and Bobs your Unkle, you are browsing the net.

I checked the speed of the connection via Think Broadband and Speed Test (Maidenhead + Dublin) and was pleasantly surprised with the following results

Think broadband = 1.8 Mbps down and 0.3 Mbps up

Speedtest Maidenhead = 2.5 Mbps down and 0.28 Mbps up

Speedtest Dublin = 2.05 Mbps down and 0.28 Mbps up

I agreed to review the netbook and Vodafone’s mobile broadband expecting to slate the performance, I have always been under the impression there is a lot of mis-selling going on in this industry and while I am sure some people sometimes maybe able to get the full speed I always thought that due to reception issues, volume of users etc the average person would not get a fraction of these speeds.

I have even previously tried another mobile broadband connection from 3 and found the connection to be 0.1Mbps down and 0.1Mbps up. This was tested knowing the reception was bad but I was expecting to see similar results from Vodafone. So to receive the above speeds is a very nice surprise indeed, granted I probably wouldn’t recommend this type of connection over a ADSL line but for someone on the move then it really is worth it.

Finally now we know the Dell is excellent and Vodafone is excellent is the deal worth it? Well I think it is up to personal opinion. I wouldn’t personally go for this deal. £30 per month x 24 months is £720. You can get the same 3Gb monthly allowance without the Dell for £15 per month on a 12 month contract which is £180 this would leave £540 to spare on a laptop which could be used for a better laptop. Granted this would mean an initial outlay of several hundreds of pounds which a lot of people may not have in which case the £30 a month deal is certainly appealing.

So if you want mobile broadband I would 100% recommend Vodafone and all the deals are good, but I would look at the various options and find which one suits you best before you buy.

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