Mini review – 3 MiFi
I had great hopes for MiFi. I was going to be like Pig-Pen from Peanuts, just with fewer flies and more connectivity. I would walk the earth with my own little bubble of Internet goodness. No more messing about with dongles for the netbook. My iPod Touch would become like an iPhone (just without voice). Life would be great.
It was clear from the first pictures that I saw that the device itself would be a bit plasticky, and it is. This is clearly something that doesn’t look like it will stand up to many knocks and bumps from daily use, but that shouldn’t matter; the whole point is that it just sits in my bag doing its thing – 3G on one side WiFi on the other. I understand that these things can’t be carved out of solid titanium billets, as that makes antenna design even more challenging than it is already, but some sort of carry case would help stop it from getting too scruffy too soon.
Unfortunately it can’t be left in the bag all day. The battery only lasts for 5h (and that’s the claimed life, I’ve not seriously tried to find out what the figure is in real world use). This means that it has to be brought out and charged – frequently. At least there’s a little USB-MiniUSB cable for the purpose, leaving it looking like a slightly overweight dongle hanging off my netbook.
Charging by plugging into the netbook is fine when the MiFi is switched off, but things get interesting when it’s on. The device presents itself as a network card rather than a modem, and on my machine it gave itself quite a high priority (above my WiFi adaptor). This means that if the 3G modem is on then you get a slow connection, and if it’s off then you get a whole lot of problems. Things can be fixed by a quick visit to the network connections control panel, just don’t forget to press the Alt button if you’re a Vista or Win7 user or you’ll never even see the Advanced menu option where adaptor priority options live.
The Huawei E5830 device has three buttons on it, and unfortunately you need to use all three to make it go. Firstly the device has to be powered on (press and hold for 2s), then the WiFi needs to be switched on (press and hold for 2s) then the 3G needs to be switched on (press and hold for 2s). Steps 2 and 3 can be reversed if you choose. This all seems a little pointless to me. The sole purpose of the device is to bridge 3G to WiFi. Like the competing Novatel 2352 this should all be done with a single power on. I’ve heard a counter argument that this arrangement helps roamers from running up huge bills by having the thing accidentally turn on, connect, and serve up a windows update or similar to their laptop. If that’s a real concern then leave it at home, or take the battery (or SIM) out.
My first train journey with the MiFi wasn’t much fun. Not only did it seem less good at getting connections that my usual Novatel XU870, but it was equally pathetic at reconnecting after going through a tunnel or whatever. Once again the only point of this device is to connect to 3G and retransmit packets over WiFi. I don’t want to have to press a button on the side of it every time the 3G connection is lost. Total user experience FAIL.
Will I send it back?
Probably not, though I’ve been sorely tempted, and I still have a week to choose. It has already proven useful as a means to provide emergency connectivity to me and my colleagues, such as last week when Gmail was having a bad hair day and I needed IMAP/SMTP connectivity (which I can’t get on the office network). Unfortunately it’s clear to me already that it’s an occasional use device rather than an all the time device. That occasional use would be helped out by better international options, like having some decent roaming tariffs for data, or being unlocked and able to accept a local data plan PAYG SIM (found just between the hens teeth and rocking horse droppings at the shop by the arrivals gate in the airport). Let’s see how it handles the trip to Manchester later in the week?
Update – after unlocking and upgrading the firmware I’ve posted a follow up review here.
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Tags: 3G, hotspot, mifi, mobile, review, wifi