Back in June I attended an event where the new version of 3's MiFi was shown off publicly for the first time. I was impressed then with it and the improvements over the original version and have now, thanks to ThreeMobileBuzz had the chance to trial one of these, putting it through its paces in a variety of situations. The device did not disappoint and proved useful in many situations and easy for people to use. The MiFi 2 feels a lot easier to use than its predecessor. This is perhaps odd as the MiFi 1 was not very difficult to use, but never really felt responsive. The lights on the front of the original unit sometimes didn't help much and when starting up the device, if you are in impatient type, it was easy to think that it was not working. The one button design of the MiFi 2 and the informative screen solve all of this by providing a very obvious visual indication of what the device is doing. It is really easy to tell when it is starting up, or ready to use and the availability of this information greatly enhances the user experience. You get help cards and a set up guide to help you on your way too.
The device is configured through a web interface which you can find by navigating to http://3.home in your browser. You can even use this as a bit of a home screen if you like as it has some links to popular sites (although I could not find a way to edit this list), an SMS client, some indicative figures about the data you are using and further administration options. If you access this with a mobile device you will get a mobile optimised version of the web interface, a really nice feature and something that I think will be liked by people who use it with devices like the Apple iPod Touch. I found the web interface easy to use and it had some useful information. For some reason the trial device didn't receive text messages sent to it so I do not know if that was an issue with the device or the account it is connected to.
I've been asked by a few people about using the MiFi to keep connected at conferences and events so I decided to try the MiFi out in one of these situations for real. I recently attended the Ubuntu in Business event and decided to take a netbook and the MiFi 2. There was no other WiFi access at the event so it was down to the MiFi 2 to keep me connected with the world so I could do things follow up links from talks and mention some of the points I found interesting on Twitter. I also made some notes and stored these in my Dropbox folder so they would automatically get backed up through the connection. All typical types of usage for an event like this.
The MiFi 2 coped with this task without any issues. I switched on the device and left it in my pocket and connected up to it. The five hour battery life is enough to get you through a typical conference day (if you switch it off while networking and eating!). I was able to stay connected and follow up on some of the very interesting talks. DropBox worked very well with this connection and it was nice to know that the notes I made were safely backed up should anything happen to the netbook.
It wasn't all business use though, on one occasion I was relaxing in a coffee shop and wanting to browse the web on my new cheap Android tablet computer. It has WiFi so it was easy to hook it up to the MiFi2 and enjoy the tablet computing experience on the move at an economy price. Having an indication available on the device of how much data is being used is reassuring too, I can relax and know I am not running up a huge bill or using up a pay as you go allowance too quickly.
Another use I tried the MiFi2 with was maybe a more serious one. With more of our lives happening online I was curious about using it as a backup for my home ADSL connection. I use the Internet for many things, including my banking so I wouldn't really want to be without access if there was a fault with my telephone line, which can happen and can sometimes take a few days to fix. So I started thinking of the MiFi2 as a good option for a backup connection. If my ADSL connection did break I could start up this device and have a working WiFi hotspot immediately in my house.
The only problem is that at my house I get quite a weak 3G signal, so I tried this out and left the MiFi2 upstairs where the 3G signal is a little better. I sat on my sofa downstairs and connected my laptop to it. The speeds I got seemed to vary at different times of the day, perhaps with network traffic, and sometimes I could not get connected. When I did the speed was very respectable and certainly fast enough to keep up with essential websites. Interestingly the coverage near me varies considerably. When I tried it at work, which is only about a mile and a half away, the speed was four times faster!
When I mentioned using the MiFi with my Android Tablet in an earlier blog post, an anonymous commented suggested that the MiFi is a “technologically marooned product” as I could have used my HTC Desire to create a wireless hotspot (which I think is not possible until the Android 2.2 upgrade later this year?). This is an interesting comment, and in theory it should be right, but I think there are factors that make the MiFi a very relevant solution still. In my example of using the MiFi as a backup to my ADSL connection, I had to put the device in the part of my house with the strongest signal, not where I happened to be sitting. I want my mobile phone to be by my side really, I don' want to have to run upstairs every time I get a text message.
The example of the event is important too. The battery life in modern smartphones is not great a lot of the time, so having an inexpensive device that can give you a WiFi connection for five hours without giving your mobile phone a flat battery is very useful I think. You can then save your phone for other use. The MiFi is relatively inexpensive and small so having one is no inconvenience. Also those with contract phones might like the idea of a Pay As You Go MiFi to keep control of their data costs.
I have been very impressed with the MiFi 2 and it shows what can be done when a company put a lot of effort in to getting feedback from their customers on a product and implement the suggestions they have been given. The MiFi 2 has more features than the MiFi 1, but I think the most important point is that the experience of using the MiFi has improved greatly. From £49.99 on Pay As You Go this good looking device is also very competitively priced.