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Orange Mobile Office 3G data card

Broadband on the move?

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TrustedReviews.comReview Vodafone's Mobile Connect 3G data card is an invaluable tool for anyone who needs to stay connected on the move. One of the things that make the Mobile Connect so great are reduced connection prices. The reason for the drop in tariffs was increased competition, in particular from Orange's Mobile Office Card, writes Riyad Emeran.

I didn't expect there to be a huge amount of difference between the Vodafone and Orange data card offerings, but this assumption was far from correct. Let's start with the way the cards look, although I'm well aware that this isn't going to be enough to sway anyone's buying decision. The Vodafone card is bright red, showing off the corporate colours, while the Orange card is black with a square orange badge on it. They both protrude about the same distance from the side of your notebook, but at first I thought that the Orange card didn't have a connector for a booster antenna. Flipping the card onto its back I spotted a small plastic bung which hides the antenna connector. Not only does this placement of the connector make it more difficult to plug in an antenna, but it also leaves you with a small plastic bung lying around that you're bound to lose.

Orange Mobile Office Card

Another slightly disappointing aspect about the Orange Mobile Office Card is that it doesn't come in a protective case like the Vodafone card. OK, perhaps this is a small point, but I like the fact that I can keep the Vodafone card in my bag protected by its figure hugging plastic case. If you want to keep the Orange card protected, you'll have to carry it around in its DVD packaging-style case. You could leave the card in your notebook, but then it does stick out and could cause damage to your PC Card slot.

Loading up the software for the Mobile Office Card was pretty painless, leaving you to just insert the card and get going. The Orange application isn't as instantly intuitive as the Vodafone version. But then looks and ease of use are only a small part of the problem. With the Vodafone card, once you're connected you can do anything from browsing the Internet to sending text messages. The way that Orange has set its application up, however, you can only do one thing at a time. If I choose to connect to the Internet, that's all that the card will be able to do. So, if I decide that I need to send an SMS while I'm browsing, that message will just sit there in my outbox until I disconnect from the Internet. The minute that the Internet connection is dropped, your SMS will be sent.

I would say that the modular nature of the Mobile Office Card software is the most bizarre part of the package, but it isn't. Without a doubt, that honour goes to the signal strength indicator. Now, we're all used to signal strength indicators because every mobile phone has one - it's a little gauge with bars, that tells you how much signal strength you have at that moment, so you're probably wondering how Orange could have got this feature wrong. But the signal strength indicator on the Mobile Office Card doesn't show you how strong your signal is at that moment, oh no. To quote the manual: "The more bars showing, the stronger the signal. This will not alter while a connection is in progress; it will show the signal strength when you first launched the application." Yep, that's right, the signal strength indicator doesn't show you your current signal strength, but instead shows you how good your signal was an hour ago when you connected. This is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that you could be using your notebook on a train, so you're being told what the signal strength was like at another time and in another place. I just can't imagine what would have possessed Orange to implement things this way, but what you end up with is a signal strength indicator that's as good as useless.

Just like the Vodafone card, the Orange Mobile Office Card should give you a maximum transfer speed of 384Kbps with a 3G connection, but I didn't once manage to achieve a connection higher than 115Kbps. As a result, the Orange card does feel sluggish compared to the Vodafone Mobile Connect, and I did test both cards one after the other in an array of different locations. Also, the coverage seemed to be slightly better from Vodafone - both cards had no problem connecting all around London and in Bracknell. However, while I was in St Albans waiting for a new set of brake pads to be fitted to my car, I was unable to get any form of connection from the Orange card, while the Vodafone card provided me with access, albeit via GPRS rather than 3G. To be fair though, I'm sure there are places where the Orange card will have coverage and the Vodafone won't, but it's worth remembering that if you're planning on being outside a major city, either of these data cards could let you down.

The last part of the puzzle is cost and just as with the Vodafone Mobile Connect, the initial purchase price of the Orange Mobile Office Card varies depending on which tariff you choose. With a purchase cost of £149 and a monthly charge of £23.50, you get 65MB of download data per month, whereas using the Vodafone Mobile Connect you get 75MB for exactly the same cost structure. To be fair, as I already mentioned, Vodafone dropped its pricing in response to Orange's price plans, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Orange's costs drop sometime in the near future. I would also hope that Orange will look into its software and try to create a more usable environment that allows you to use all the services all of the time. However, as things stand Vodafone is offering a better package, with superior software, faster performance and more bundled data.

Verdict

Orange has been slow out of the gate with its 3G service, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. However, with a clumsy interface, slower connection speed and less competitive tariffs, Orange will find it tough to compete with the already established Vodafone Mobile Connect.

Orange Mobile Office Card
 
Rating 60%
 
Price £149
 
More info The Orange website

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