Devices Operators

3’s next-gen MiFi unit is simply brilliant

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:

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

13 replies on “3’s next-gen MiFi unit is simply brilliant”

Looks pretty good to me .. But it's sad that its so hard to get one of these without a contract / unlocked. I have been trying hard to get hold of one for the past 6 months but no luck .

Can this MiFi be used outside 3's network ?

Thanks for the feedback Ewan! Look forward to seeing what other devices you try it out with. Also, be great to hear what you think of using the web dashboard, Michelle

No it's for 3's network only. You could buy the 200 pound Novatel MiFi unit unlocked from Expansys. That'd allow you to use any network.

Off the back of your review I got one. Helpful manager in the 3UK shop recommended I go on a monthly rolling contract (£15pcm for 10gig) and drop the SIM in the PAYG modem (£49.99). Works a treat!!

Nice, but the previous generation got an unlock patch which allows me to carry it accross Europe. Until the same thing happens with this version, I'll hang on my 'old' one like dear life.

could have sworn i saw this new unit in the nottingham three shop for £39.99 today. with a £15 5gig a month package. that's pretty sweet. i do like the idea of one button on.

Does it have an external antenna socket?

I tried an earlier version, and on my canal boat (with a1/4″ thick steel cabin and often in cuttings and in rural areas) reception was not great, even if I stuck it in the window.

I currently use an O2 dongle, which has an external aerial socket that I connect to a roof antenna, giving a powerful boost. The old mi-fi didn't have this external socket.

Oh… my… god… I got mine yesterday and I've found it more or less IMPOSSIBLE to connect or activate the thing. The customer support is LOUSY, the connectivity is appalling & I'm actually really really sad, because I had high-expectations for it. I just can't believe how difficult it is to get our of the blocks. They even put the wrong mobile number on the receipt. The customer support help-line on the receipt wasn't even working & after an hour of trying and being bounced from customer-support person to customer support person I gave up & I'll have to do it all over again later.

Terrible. Nothing 'out of the box' about the new mifi.

Oh… and the http://3.home/ 'dashboard' doesn't work either. Nothing. Nada. “Page cannot be found.

Got one of the old ones free with an iPad, chucked out the 15 quid a month SIM that came with it and used a 6 quid a month 3 SIM that I got with a broadband dongle from, would you believe it, Very shopping catalogue. They were selling them cheap so I got a handful and use them everywhere now.

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