Dongles, those things you plug into the back of computers should be relegated to history. Dongles started off life as a kind of software licensing device twenty years ago. They are similar to a thumb-drive but slightly larger.

Most people’s current experience of dongles is in their use as a way to make a computer Internet capable. The term has broadened to include any device the size of a large thumb-drive, even if that device does not plug into a USB socket on a computer.

Wi-Fi Dongles

If you have an ancient computer with no wireless capability you can buy a dongle that will allow your computer to access your home or business wi-fi network. If your old computer still serves your needs then buying a wireless dongle will extend its life and put off the day when you need to buy a replacement.

If you have a laptop computer with no wireless card you could do the same but in this case you would be better off just replacing the laptop or connecting it to your router with a network cable. Dongles that are stuck into laptops are also easily bent and damaged and the laptop will be so near the end of its life that buying a dongle for it is just a waste of money.

3G Dongles

You can get a dongle to turn your plain vanilla laptop into a 3G capable super-machine. Don’t waste your money though. You have the same problem with any rigid plug-in USB device – It makes your laptop computer awkward to use and the dongle is very easily bent or damaged.

Wireless 3G Dongles

If you have a good mobile phone network signal then a wireless 3G dongle might make sense. It does not plug into the computer, but sits somewhere there is a good signal and sends the signal to your laptop or tablet computer.  Early models only supported one computer each, but modern mi-fi dongles can support up to five devices.

You do need an excellent signal and there must be plenty of spare capacity on the network. If the network is crowded then priority is given to voice calls and data (Internet) use is restricted. Urban areas are usually well-served by mobile phone networks, but away from towns and cities it is a different story entirely.

You will need to a sim-card for your 3G dongle for your preferred network and either a pre-paid data allowance or a data-only contract.

MiFi Dongles

The main advantage of a mifi dongle is that you can connect multiple devices to it. You still need a sim-card and data package but one sim card and a generous data package will cost less than three or four separate ones.

The more devices you connect to your mifi dongle the slower the Internet connection will be for each one and this is a trade-off that you need to think about before going this route.

With a mifi dongle you can use any laptop as a 3G device, just like a top of the range iPad, except more versatile and a quarter of the price. Your mifi allows your laptop to access the Internet anywhere there is a mobile phone signal of sufficient strength and you have a proper keyboard, USB sockets and a decent-sized hard disk. The dongle can just sit in your pocket and nobody will even know you are using it.

You can buy a new 250Gb laptop and mifi dongle together for £300 rather than the £700 that a 3G cpable 32Gb iPad would cost you. In terms of computing power it is a no-brainer.

A mifi device seems the only sensible way to use your tablet or laptop computers on a 3G network.