If you want mobile broadband on contract, every operator has a dongle and a deal. Among the offerings from Orange is the E173, a straightforward dongle available for free on some contracts.
Things don’t get much more straightforward than the Orange E173. It is a standard USB stick-shaped device that plugs into a USB port on your computer. Orange provides an extension cable, which is useful if you want to position the dongle away from your computer. This can improve performance, and can be useful if the dongle itself obscures access to the adjacent USB slot. This is likely to be the case as the dongle is, as these things are, fairly fat.
Easy-peasy – well, almost
The whole of one side of the cover comes off to reveal the SIM card slot, and there’s a microSD card slot too, which enables the dongle to double up as a USB storage drive. With a SIM card in place, you just plug the dongle into any USB slot on your PC or Mac and follow the setup instructions for software and driver installation.
On our PC, the setup process was fast and trouble-free – though getting the software to run automatically when we reinserted the dongle did require a restart, something that’s not suggested in the manual.
The software has a giant on-screen ‘Connect/disconnect’ button that you hit to go on and offline. Connections to 7.2Mbit/s download and 2.0Mbit/s upload are supported.
You can call up a messaging manager which lets you manage contacts and SMS messages, and there’s an onscreen alert when a new SMS message arrives. A light on the dongle indicates connection status with green, blue and cyan (light blue) indicating 2G, 3G and 3G+ connectivity respectively. It’s a bit small and not very bright. We had to shade it with a hand to see the colours.
- Simple plug and play use; neat on screen software.
- Need to reboot after initial software installation wasn't immediately obvious.
The Orange E173 just works, and after our initial teething trouble with the software setup we had no further problems.