Can't decide between a Wi-Fi hotspot and a USB dongle? Telstra's new prepaid 3G dongle offers both: you can plug it directly into your laptop, or use it as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five other devices. Here's how it stacks up.
At $59, the device is a cheaper alternative than most of Telstra's existing mobile broadband range. There is one major restriction: you can't access the newer 4G LTE network, so speeds will be on the lower side. (With that said, I've been finding 4G access increasingly variable as more people use the network, and if you live in a non-4G area this is a non-issue.)
You plug the device into your computer and then connect as if it's a Wi-Fi hotspot. There's an auto-launching software package, but this is browser-based; there's none of the bloatware associated with previous Telstra USB dongles. Additional devices simply connect via Wi-Fi. If you don't have a laptop to hand (or can't spare a USB port), a power plug is also supplied so you can charge directly from the wall.
Unlike the more elaborate Wi-Fi hotspots Telstra offers for 4G prepaid and contract customers, there's no on-screen display of the network name and password. The usual Telstra card listing the password is supplied in the box, and it's also written on the device itself, though you have to awkwardly pry off the main plastic cover to access it. That makes it less convenient, but does mean it's not going to wear off over time, which is a problem I've experienced with other mobile broadband devices. There's the usual nuisance of a cap for the USB end (which only fits on one way, despite looking symmetrical).
In operation, the device gets quite spectacularly hot; even after 10 minutes of use, it was running very warm. This is much less of an issue when it's plugged into your machine then when you have it in a pocket, admittedly.
If you're an occasional mobile broadband user and don't want to pay the $169 which the 4G prepaid hotspot commands, this is a reasonable alternative. Dongle-only options are still cheaper, but the sharing option is handy, especially if you're on the road with multiple devices.