I got hold of one of the new 3 Mobile WiFi units last week and I’ve been putting it through it’s paces. Regular readers will know that my opinion on MiFi was set to ‘ultra positive’ ever since I tested the Novatel Wireless device last year. Dongles are for dunces. A separate unit that enables multiple devices to share the mobile braodband connection is the way ahead.
I was a fan of 3’s first unit, manufactured by Huawei and although it did it’s job perfectly well at the genius price point of £49 Pay-as-you-go, there was room for improvement.
The first improvement is that you now just switch the device on. That’s it. Switch it on it’ll automatically setup a MiFi mobile broadband connection. On the old version, you had to specifically tell it to start/stop and whatnot. And you had to look at the little coloured flashing buttons to try and determine whether you had a 2G/3G connection. So, no messing around with multiple options or buttons any more. Just switch it on and you’re done.
The next thing they’ve sorted is a screen. And goodness me it’s useful. Here’s a close-up:
You’ve got the signal strength indicator, a connection type indicator (e.g. 3G/HSPA), a WiFi indicator, a connected globe indicator and the battery level. Everything you need. My absolute favourite is the WiFi indicator — do you see the number 1 next to it? That indicates you have one device connected. Connect another device and it increments to 2. This is really, really REALLY useful for me. I sometimes want to know whether or not my laptop/desktop/iPad/whatever is still connected — so a quick glance to that indicator is super. Battery is important too. And if you’re on a train or in the back of a car, you’ll also want to know what kind of signal quality you’ve got.
And I like the black sleek look — attractive, functional, definitely the way ahead.
If you’d like to see the unboxing and demo, here’s the vid I made on Friday:
Inside the box, I’d like to draw your attention to the whizzy cheat cards. It’s a feature they’ve been using over at sister firm, INQ, to avoid having to stick stupidly annoying massive manuals in with their phones. Have a look:
The MiFi comes with 9 of these little pocket cards offering quick guides to setting up the device, getting it started, connecting to it from your computer, that sort of things. The attention to detail is excellent. And, if you’re someone like me who positively does not read the manual (unless the device simply won’t start), they’re a welcome addition.
In terms of cost, here’s where it gets crazy. £49 for the device. You do need to pay a tenner for 1GB as well, so the full walk-out-the-shop price is a minimum of £59.99. But I’d recommend taking a look at the £69.99 PAYG option which includes the MiFi unit and 3GB of data.
If you’ve got an iPad, an iPod Touch, or frankly any device that benefits from WiFi (like a Nintendo DS, laptop), you really should look at getting a MiFi when you’re on the move. The ability to switch on a mobile broadband cloud for all your devices is something I find very valuable, almost every day of the week. I use mine on the train, in meetings, wherever I need data service.
A lot of people I speak to still have a built-in negative perspective on 3. That viewpoint is really out of date now. The company has some of the best and fastest data connectivity in the UK. You will find yourself, on occasion, out of signal. But it’s broadly the same with any of the other network operators. You also benefit from the fact that 3’s network is generally under utilised (in my opinion) by their subscribers so I usually find it super fast. You can use the coverage checker on 3’s site to determine if you’ve got connectivity in your work/home areas.
I’ll post some video of the 3 MiFi unit working with different devices. I haven’t yet used the device long enough to see how long the battery lasts in ‘live’ conditions.
Here’s the set of MiFi photos I took: