The MiFi is a handy little device from 3 that allows you to have a pocket sized mobile broadband router that can connect to the mobile network to give you access to the Internet while you are out and about. Despite its convenience the unit did cause owners to have a few gripes, it had a status display that was tricky to understand, you could only reconfigure it with the supplied Windows client and its three button operation proved unpopular. Taking this feedback onboard 3 have been working with the unit's maker Huawei to bring out a new and improved version and I've just been to the event in London where the MiFi 2 (also known as the Huawei E585) was shown off to bloggers.
Firstly, many thanks to ThreeMobileBuzz for organising the event. They even arranged for everybody to be picked up in rickshaws which great fun! It is possible to use a netbook connected to a MiFi in a rickshaw in case you were wondering, although ensuring I didn't fall out of it was a pressing concern! Once we arrived at their offices we were given a talk by 3's product manager for the MiFi Matt Halfin who was eager to show off the new unit and the improvements it brings.
The big news is that the Windows configuration client that was needed for such things as configuring the device and the SMS functionality is no more, instead the device is configured through the browser (the screenshots show a couple of example pages). This news was met with cheers in the room. It means the device will now be more appealing to owners of non-Windows systems like Ubuntu powered machines or devices like the iPad.
I tried the web configuration site out through an Ubuntu machine and it all seemed to work fine, I could access information about the MiFi, what devices were attached to it, the SMS functionality, the configuration pages, data usage and so on.
All I had to do to get to these configuration pages was to enter the device's IP address, the same way as you would with something like a home ADSL router (the default address is http://192.168.1.1/). The pages are all '3' branded and have user friendly icons. There was also a page for viewing and uploading files to a MicroSD card slot.
It's not just on the inside that the MiFi has changed. In Three's user feedback sessions for the original MiFi (shown on the left in the picture above) it turned out that “everybody hated the confusing lights” so they have been banished and replaced with a smart OLED screen (shown on the new Mifi on the right) which shows you some basic information about what the device is doing such as the network, signal strength and the connection time. The number of SMS messages received is also apparently shown here too. To conserve power the display goes blank after a few seconds (but pressing the button switches it back on again), but now a power light stays on to let you know the unit is switched on, unlike the old MiFi where all of the lights would go out. Notice here I said “the button”, it's not plural anymore, one button switches on the unit, starts the WiFi and connects it to the mobile network, another improvement that was the result of user feedback.
The new MiFi is a good looking device too. It is pretty much the same size as the old unit but now is in a smart black and silver case. Inside that case is the same battery as before, as Huawei advised that this is still the best battery for the unit, but work has been done to ensure that battery life is the same (or possibly better) despite the new features. Charging time has been reduced though, the first charge, which used to be twelve hours is now eight and normal charge times have also been reduced. It is now possible to use the device also while it is charging. While you are using it the device will only work on 3's own network which is 3G only, it won't by default roam onto Orange which 3 use to provide 2G connectivity.
Sadly no details of an upgrade path were available for owners of the existing MiFi unit. A firmware update was promised though that will bring some of the features of the new MiFi such as the browser based configuration pages to the old version, but no time scale was available. However, the new version of the MiFi will be replacing the old version and will be available on the same tariffs, the same pay as you go prices and in the same places as before, so it should be possible to buy the new version and use it with your SIM card from your existing device.
It is great to see that 3 have taken the feedback from the user feedback sessions and reviews from bloggers about the MiFi and made many improvements to their product. It is also really satisfying for those of us who took part in this process to see these improvements happen. The old MiFi was a great product too and a real leap forward for mobile broadband, the new version is another leap forward bringing a much more polished experience to the user. The new MiFi is in the shops on July 2nd.