Mini review – 3 MiFi

29Sep09

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.

personal cloud

personal cloud of connectivity?

Plasticky

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.

Battery

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.

Network nightmare

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.

Getting on

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.

Staying on

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.



9 Responses to “Mini review – 3 MiFi”

  1. I’m very pleased with mine so far – I upgraded from the E220 and play an extra GBP1.50 a month for nearly double the data allowance, so a win there..

    I’m currently using it with my Sony PSP2000 – I’ve been streaming Internet radio in the office for the past couple of days without a hitch. I also use it for the embedded Skype on the PSP and today I was experimenting with the little PSP camera and uploaded a couple of surprisingly good quality images to my web site. I’m averaging 1.5Mbps download and 320Kbps upload speeds. Tomorrow I’m going to find a large, isolated field and er, run a proper field test, probably uploading to Twitpic.com. The PSP is fast becoming my Road Warrior’s tool of choice and now that Skype works I can tell the WAP operators where to shove their port blocking.

    The only change I’ve made so far (other than the passphrase) is to reduce the DHCP lease time to around 40,000 as the default 86,400 had the PSP unable to connect once or twice as the lease hadn’t expired.

    The only other problem I’ve had is trying to get my Dell Inspiron 6400 (Vista) to connect wirelessly: it can connect (eventually) but seems unable to get the MiFi to recognise the passphrase.

  2. Hi guys, I too have a E5830 and am looking for a way to unlock it so it will accept another sim. Any ideas?

  3. 3 jackie

    Well whilst it may be a good little device it’s 3.6mbps speed is lousy, I prefer the E170 huawei dongle which offers 7.2mbps and with the use of a d100 router get better results for wifi devices at home or away

    • 4 Chris Swan

      In my experience the 3.6mbps speed is notional rather than realistic, 7.2 doubly so. I flashed my Novatel XU870 to do 7.2mbps, but it makes precious little difference. If you get to use your E170 somewhere that you can notice the upgrade then that’s pretty good going.

  4. 5 Iain McEwen

    Sent mine back – absolute rubbish, no connectivity most of the time. Sending it back was of course a different nightmare that took about 3 weeks to resolve…

    • 6 Chris Swan

      I never found 3’s service all that reliable in Canary Wharf – just too many people in those banks trying to keep on top of Facebook and Twitter I guess. I think the way the MiFi doesn’t allow auto reconnect would be particularly aggravating in that environment.

  5. 7 russ leigh

    i flashed mine so i could turn the wifi cutt off to off so its on all the time now also its now unlocked and i,m useing a prepay voda sim at 50p a day (no its not monitored as i use 2 to 300 mb per day easy ) dc unlocker was the best option i found pay your £15
    and it does it for you. what i liked about all this was telling bt to shove it were the sun don’t shine . my broadband now only costs me £15 to £16 a month skype gamming on the xbox ect internet any were i want and speeds of 2 to 3 mb .were with bt i was paying £23 a month and speeds of around 1.8 mb.

    • 8 tigpell

      so can you connect it to the xbox 360 if so how?

      • The Xbox 360 doesn’t have WiFi, so you need some kind of adaptor. There seems to be an official MS one, or you could use a suitable WiFi access point in client mode (and plug it into the Xbox’s network port).

        NB I have not tried using my own Xbox 360 and MiFi together in this way, but I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work.


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