Vodafone's Mobile Wi-Fi R205 makes sharing a 3G broadband connection with up to five wireless devices incredibly easy, and we found very good performance in our tests.
Unlike other mobile broadband routers we've tested, the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205 doesn't expect you to figure out what's going on through a series of colour-coded LEDs or even a web interface.
Rather, a tiny OLED display is able to show you at a glance the signal strength, battery life, uptime, how much data has been downloaded in the current session, and alert you when new text messages are received.
Usefully, double-pressing the power button also flashes onscreen the SSID and network key, meaning you don't have to remove the rear panel to access these details each time you want to connect to the device.
Setup is as simple as turning on the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205 and picking it up as you would any other 802.11b/g wireless router; there's no need to browse to a web interface and configure various settings or connect to Vodafone's network.
Unless you want to: Vodafone offers both a web app and a free Android/iOS app for the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205.
The former allows you to configure up to 32GB of shared storage when a microSD card is inserted, check your text messages, see how many devices are connected and access your account, while the Android app displays a quick overview of those key stats - the signal strength, battery level, uptime, data usage, text messages and the number of connected devices.
The Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205 router itself is very similar in outward appearance to Three's MiFi; both are made by Huawei, although this Vodafone is slightly lighter at 80g rather than 90g.
The small OLED screen is surrounded by a huge black bezel, with a Vodafone logo on the front of its white chassis. The pebble-like design houses a microSD card slot on the lefthand side, Micro-USB on the bottom, and a power button on the right.
Unclipping the rear panel reveals a removable 5.6Wh lithium-polymer battery, plus space for your SIM. The router is built from plastic, but feels reasonably robust.
A Micro-USB cable and mains charger are supplied for power. Vodafone claims the battery will run for up to 4.5 hours away from the mains, where it offers up to 10m range; when connected to a power socket, this is said to extend to 60m.
Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205: Performance
We tested the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205 over the Vodafone UK network, where it's billed as offering ‘up to 21.6Mbps’ downloads and ‘5.7Mbps’ uploads.
We picked up its wireless connection on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet and Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc smartphone, then ran a series of performance tests using the Speedtest.net Android app (configured on both devices to access the Vodafone-hosted server in Newbury).
We also tested the smartphone with its own Vodafone SIM for comparison.
Our results revealed that better network performance was available through the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205 router. While the fastest download and upload speeds our smartphone could muster with its native SIM were 5.8- and 2.4Mbps respectively, we recorded 6.7- and 2.8Mbps on the tablet. On the smartphone we saw 5.8- and 3.0Mbps when connected via the router.
Where the router fell down in measured performance was latency. Speedtest.net measured 116ms ping time on the smartphone with its native SIM – but a significantly slower 531ms and 612ms ping on the tablet and smartphone respectively, when connected via the R205.
In comparison to the Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352 favoured by Orange, the Vodafone R205 offers very good value. You can buy this router on a pay-as-you-go basis for £75, including a £10 top-up (Novatel SIM-free £135), or on contract for £15 a month with 2GB of data (Orange £10 a month, but only 500MB data).
Three offers slightly better value for heavy web users; although its similar Huawei router costs from £18.99 a month (or £84.99 PAYG), the company offers a staggering 15GB of data.
This generous allowance highlights an important point: when browsing full desktop websites on a PC, laptop or tablet, rather than the mobile-optimised sites displayed by a smartphone, data usage can add up much faster than you might expect.