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MiFi Review

The short summary: Fast and easily portable mobile Internet for any WiFi enabled device.

The not-so-short full story: read on…

Some time ago I enjoyed a trial period from Three.co.uk for their MiFi device and here’s how I found it, primarily as a companion for my iPad. The iPad I’m using is the 3G version, so I was able to directly compare performance of the MiFi against the onboard access via the O2 network.

For a start I did some stats-only testing using the excellent Speedtest (iTunes link) app on my iPad. This provided me with some ‘hard science’ figures on access speeds, although what it actually means when using the browser in a ‘real world’ situation can feel quite different. Access speed depends on quite a few variables, but the figures below show an averaged ‘typical’ result for the locations I tested this at.

At Belfast Airport location:

iPad via MiFi: Upload : 1151mbs  -  Download: 1574
iPad via 3G: Upload : 350mbs  -  Download: 200mbs (Strange result, but that’s what Speedtest was showing me!).

In Lisburn town centre:

iPad via MiFi: Upload : 1625mbs  -  Download: 995mbs
iPad via 3G: Upload : 240mbs  -  Download: 600mbs

Although I was accessing both Three.co.uk and O2 via 3G the access speeds were noticeably faster for Three.co.uk in almost every test I performed, for both statistics and real browser behaviour. This makes a very convincing case for the MiFi. 

Also, as a not-very-scientific example I accessed several Wikipedia pages to see what these download figures mean in real terms when wanting to browse the web. I choose the same set of pages and forced a total refresh of the cache on iPad between reloading the pages each time.

Basically I found that fully downloading a lightweight Wikipedia page took about the same time (6 seconds) on an iPad 3G cell network connection as it did via the MiFi - but when accessing larger pages I could see a significant improvement on the MiFi. Strangely I also did some comparisons using O2 Openzone and found the MiFi still had the edge in speed. I expected Openzone would easily have delivered the fastest access, but this was not so.

The Mi-Fi unit itself is sturdily built and appears capable of withstanding a fair degree of abuse, although I did find a few minor issues with the model I was using. In some instances the buttons along the side of the MiFi were a little stiff to operate, the casing seemed to be a tiny bit too close a fit on the model I was using and this sometimes impeded the movement of the buttons. This was only an occasional and minor issue though, powering up and activating the various functions was easy enough, once I was accustomed to the startup sequence. In any case Three.co.uk have now replaced the device I was testing with a newer (and much better designed) model. I’ve seen the new version up close and it obviates the minor physical issues I had with the earlier model, the new version is pretty much a complete redesign - and very nice it is too.

I found the icons on the screen a little cryptic at first, but after a quick scan over the brief user guide all became clear.

Basically there are five status icons to show: 1)Power on/Battery 2)Network access 3) WiFi 4) High-Speed network 5) Roaming

These icon LEDs also change colour to indicate status changes for some of these features, e.g., red for ‘no cellular access’ and green > amber > red for battery status. On the current model this has all been replaced with a much simpler single LCD panel.

With regular use the status icons are understandable at a glance and a simple power-on sequence can be performed quickly, after which the MiFi can be returned to a pocket or bag and you can browse away without giving it a further thought. This is the essence of the MiFi - turn it on connect your device and off you go browsing/emailing, Twittering etc., and I must say it performs spectacularly well at this.

The WiFi network password is clearly labelled on each device, just key it into your iPad/laptop and it should connect right away. It is also possible to connect up to five devices with the MiFi, handy if you need to connect an iPhone and an iPad, or a laptop at the same time, or if you wish to share your connection with others.

Overall I found the MiFi to be a terrific device - an absolute must-have if your devices do not include SIM card features of their own - and if you find yourself bereft of a WiFi zone (which, in my part of the world, is most of the time). It really does live up to it’s promise of easy and fast mobile Internet access and makes a great companion for an iPad. Of course you are obliged to carry an extra device for mobile access but the compact size of the MiFi and it’s ability to operate from a pocket or bag makes it an easily portable choice. Battery life for the MiFi was pretty useable too, I was getting about 4 hours plus of continuous use and it will automatically time out to energy-saving mode if you forget to turn it off.

Incidentally, something else I noticed, when I accessed a Youtube video via 3G on my iPad I received the very compressed ‘3G’ lower quality version of the video, but connecting via the MiFi served the video in whatever resolutions were available - good to know that.

Please note that the model I tested has now been replaced by a much-improved updated model, which improves the already good MiFi in almost every respect, from aesthetics and ergonomics to build quality. I would definitely recommend a MiFi as an excellent mobile Internet solution for those who don’t already have SIM-enabled devices, or even for those who do and are flush/nerdy enough to afford an alternative network access. The Pay As You Go prices are modest and there are also some good deals on MiFi contracts, checkout the Three.co.uk MiFi section of the site for details.

Three.co.uk are also pretty active on Twitter, account name is: @ThreeUKLatest if you’re interested in following them.