A 3G Wi-Fi hotspot can be a really handy way of getting Internet on the road, especially if you need to connect multiple devices. Just don't expect it to work for a long time — and don't put it in your shirt pocket.
I've recently been testing Telstra's Elite Mobile prepaid Wi-Fi device, which was launched earlier this month. There's a lot to like about it: the design is pretty much foolproof even for a confirmed gadget breaker like me, and you don't need any specialised software to connect it. (That makes it a very straightforward choice if you want to run Linux on your notebook, for starters.) The network performance is also up to the usual high Telstra standard.
Despite that, there are two reasons why I don't think I'll be swapping permanently from a 3G dongle to a Wi-Fi device any time soon. The first is that the battery life isn't that impressive. During my recent and unexpectedly extended stay on the Gold Coast, I used the Elite Mobile while I was hanging around the airport waiting to learn what happened. My notebook battery worked fine over that five hour period and still had charge to spare, but a fully-charged Elite ran out two-thirds of the way through — and I was only connecting to a single device at the time. Having to recharge the device every single day would make it rather less convenient, but that seems like a necessity.
The second reason I've been put off is that I don't want singed nipple hairs. This device runs hot — so hot that I could easily feel it on my chest when I had it in my jacket pocket, even with two layers of fabric in between. Frankly, that's just not a good look. I definitely don't want to risk putting it in my jeans pocket and being forced to order a "SCORCHED NADS" headband shortly thereafter. And in a crowded airport, leaving it sitting on a desk or table isn't really an option.
I'm not singling out the Telstra model for special criticism here; by all accounts, running warm isn't an unusual feature of these devices. But it's enough of an issue that I feel like a connected dongle is going to work better for me.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman decided to eliminate medically offensive photography from this post. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.