We may quickly notice some serious issues that take us back down to earth, and that’s why you (hopefully) read our review before shelling out any cash.
On the face of it, the MiFi can’t fail to impress. Think of the phone-sized gadget as a USB modem (aka dongle), Wi-Fi router and portable hard drive in one. Three distinct purposes, all of interest to anyone that has a netbook that needs a data connection on the move, wants to move around files or do away with the fixed-line broadband at home.
Sales of USB dongles have been phenomenal and mobile broadband has now become a serious competitor to fixed-line Internet – especially with the advent of high-speed 3G in the form of HSPA, with speeds reaching 7.2Mbps for downloading and 2Mbps for uploading and due to increase further by the end of 2009.
The problem with a dongle is that it enables only a single device to get online, which isn’t a lot of good if you have a PC, netbook, games console, a Wi-Fi enabled mobile phone or an iPod touch – devices that you’d traditionally connect using a mains powered wireless router.
The MiFi is neither mains powered (unless you want it to be) or tethered to a cable. Chuck in a data enabled (and hopefully suitably tariffed) SIM card behind the 1530mAh battery, switch on, and in less than a minute you’ll find it acting as a Wi-Fi hotspot using 802.11b/g, but sadly not (wireless)-n. By default, our MiFi didn’t have any security enabled, but you can create a key to stop anyone around you logging in and using up your monthly data allowance. Up to five users can be connected at any one time.
Changing the settings, including entering the initial data settings (APN etc), is done by accessing a virtual web site at www.mifi. From here, you can also access the content of the integrated memory card. The upside of this is that you can access the files from any wireless device that is connected to the MiFi hotspot, turning it into a pretty basic network hard drive.
But, early on, I mentioned the fact that this also acted as a normal USB dongle – which it does if you connect it to a PC or Mac. Upon connecting it via a traditional USB cable, the wireless connection will drop and the MiFi turns into a bog standard USB modem. The first time you connect, you’ll be invited to install the PC or Mac drivers. From then on, you can get a single device online while taking power from the host machine.
To keep track of your connection speed, you can either view the stats on the virtual website, or look at the exterior LED that flashes in different colours to signify a 2G or 3G connection, or whether you’re using HSPA for the highest possible speed. Novatel Wireless supplied us with an O2 SIM card, which never achieved a speed high enough for normal 3G (384Kbps), let alone HSDPA – so this was quickly swapped out for a Vodafone SIM – which saw a more impressive, but still somewhat far short of 7.2Mbps, peak speed of just under 2Mbps.
Not fantastic, but this isn’t the fault of the MiFi and shows the limitation of HSPA when you’re not almost standing next to a base station.
Not everyone is going to see the need for a MiFi, especially if there’s already a working Wi-Fi connection at home or at work. Nor will everyone care about sharing the Internet on the move, although it has to be said that for a netbook user, it’s significantly quicker to get online by using Wi-Fi than connecting a mobile phone or dongle with a USB cable, or Bluetooth, and using a special application to get online. This process can often take up to a minute, or more, while Wi-Fi can be up and running in seconds.
The range isn’t as good as a traditional wireless router, so if you’ve got devices all over the house, this may not be a suitable option, but nor is it anywhere near as limited as using Bluetooth.
The fact is, the MiFi is a bit of a niche product – but besides the issue of range, there’s nothing really bad to say about it.
On that basis, this should easily get five-stars. Except, there’s one thing that I’ve held back until now. If you read everything without skipping down to the end, I commend you. Had I said it earlier on, there’s a chance you wouldn’t have read on at all.
That thing is the price. The MiFi costs over £200!
Five years ago, What Mobile was reviewing 3G Data Cards that cost around £300, plus the hefty line rental and per-megabyte charges. Now, USB dongles are sold on prepay for under £30, and any 3G mobile phone can be used as a modem. Wi-Fi is also included on most smartphones and is no longer a feature people would pay large sums of money for.
All things considered, the £205 price-tag is going to put most potential customers off – and those are the ones who immediately saw the benefit. Anyone that needs some further persuasion isn’t likely to think anything other than ‘well it looks nice’ before moving on.
In fact, when I first heard about the MiFi (after 3 announced that it will be selling it before Christmas), I had no idea on the price either – especially considering it’s little more than a 3G/HSPA transceiver, Wi-Fi antenna and battery rolled into a box the size of a pack of cigarettes.
The concept is sound, however. It works brilliantly and is one of those products that will fall in price quite quickly – hopefully. Once it does, the MiFi could replace the traditional dongle and become a must-have gadget.
For now, it’s a gadget that you’d love to own but will struggle to justify the cost.
One saving grace will be when 3 announces the pricing for its version, which will be subsidised heavily when you sign up for a new mobile broadband subscription. If you can get this for free, it’s a no-brainer.
RATINGS (out of 5)
If you can’t really see the need for a mobile hotspot, there are other ways to share a mobile broadband connection, from an application for Series 60 smartphones, to wireless routers that can take USB dongles – but the latter is a much bigger solution than this.
- Turn your Series 60 (Wi-Fi enabled) smartphone into a hotspot
- Buy the Novatel Wireless MiFi from Expansys
Tri-Band 3G with HSDPA (7.2Mbps) and HSUPA (5.76Mbps)
Quad-Band GSM with GPRS and EDGE
Connectivity: Micro-USB, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g (2.4GHz)
Networking: DHCP Server, NAT/NAPT, DNS support, VPN pass-through
Storage: microSDHC (up to 32GB)
Battery: 1530mAh (usage time TBC)