Back in May I was contacted by a company representing WIND Mobile to see if I would be interested in test driving a data stick for free. I don’t often get contacted for things like this let alone accept them, but I liked the idea of the mobile data stick given my interest in wireless technology so I accepted. This was the pitch:
We’d like to offer you a free WIND Mobile Data Stick with two months of unlimited service to help you stay connected wherever you go. Your readers look to you to stay informed on the latest tech trends and Edmonton happenings – so whether you’re writing from this year’s Fringeopolis, or you want to share a new social media trend with Edmonton’s blogosphere while you’re on the go, if you’re in a WIND Zone, you’ll have access to the internet – and to your readers. All we ask in return is that if you like it, tell people about it.
I said I’d write about it either way, hence this post!
The data stick arrived right at the end of May, and I used it a few times throughout June and July. Setup was really simple – I was up and running in a matter of minutes (I didn’t have to do any activation steps, that was already taken care of). The main task was to install the software. The USB stick itself is manufactured by Huawei and the software they provide is pretty generic, it just gets branded for each carrier. I really dislike installing any extra wireless software on my computer – I prefer to let Windows handle everything. Aside from the dated Windows XP look however, the software thankfully didn’t cause any problems.
Clicking ‘connect’ was all that was required, though I did find it useful to look at the statistics from time to time. As you can see it has the ability to send text messages as well (after all, the data stick runs on the same network as your cell phone). I didn’t use that functionality – it seems kind of unnecessary when my phone is never far away!
I purposefully avoided doing any detailed speed tests with the data stick. If I were to buy one, I wouldn’t be downloading torrents or anything like that, so I figured I’d just test my “normal usage”. That means things like email, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc. In general, I was happy with the performance!
The first time I used the data stick was at the Questionmark office, actually. We were in the process of moving from the 8th floor to the 5th floor, and we had all kinds of issues getting our Internet connection moved. And once it did get moved, it would drop all the time! We got it all resolved eventually, but I used the data stick quite a bit while waiting for a technician to show up, so that worked out well.
Not long after that, Sharon and I were guest speakers at a Travel Media Association of Canada retreat focused on social media. I think I could have connected to the wireless they had arranged, but it was easier to just use the data stick. With lots of browsing and demos, the connection worked really well! I never had to wait longer than normal for something to load. The only odd thing I noticed was with geo-location – Twitter would identify my location as Vancouver rather than Edmonton!
The first time I used the data stick for tweeting/blogging was June 11 at TEDxEdmonton 2011. If you were there, you probably saw me down front in the middle, live-tweeting the presentations. There wasn’t any wi-fi available so having the data stick really came in handy. I could have tweeted from my phone I guess, but looking up links, videos, and the other stuff I was including is just so much easier on a laptop. All of that went really well, but I ran into issues when I tried uploading photos to Flickr. The upload speeds were abysmal, and I eventually gave up and plugged in to a wired connection during the breaks.
I also found the data stick useful in a couple of volunteer situations. I am the secretary on my condo board, and we have meetings in our shared room on the main floor. It doesn’t have wi-fi so it was handy to have the data stick to get access to download files and look things up! Another situation was during a meeting for the new Slow Food Edmonton site that I am developing (no it’s not up yet). We were at Credo which usually has excellent wireless, but for whatever reason on that day it wasn’t working. I was able to connect with the data stick though and continue with the meeting as planned.
As I mentioned above, I was really pleased with how easy it was to setup and use the data stick. For my “typical usage” testing, the performance was great. I just wouldn’t upload photos!
The thing is, on most days I’m never far from a wi-fi connection. My home office, the Questionmark office, Credo, Transcend, etc. – they all have good wi-fi connections. While it was certainly useful to have the data stick available for those times that I didn’t have wi-fi, I don’t think I’m on the go often enough to justify it.