Daily Archives: Sunday, 11th Jul 2010

3 Mobile Broadband (MiFi)

I have since upgraded to the much spiffier new model.

I vaguely mentioned this a week ago, but now I’ve given it a proper test, it’s time for a more detailed review.

When I travel anywhere, I like to have internet access available. It’s also useful to have a connection to fall back on in the event that my cable service breaks[1]. I’ve previously used a USB 3G dongle thingy. Now these work well enough, but they have a few drawbacks:

  1. You have to let them install their drivers and software on any computer that needs to use them
  2. Unless you faff around with connection sharing – in effect turning one of your computers into a router – you can only use them on one device at a time
  3. You can’t use them to connect your iPhone, iPad or other such devices, unless you do more fiddling around
  4. You might have to move your computer to an awkward location to pick up a good signal

So, when I saw a review of the MiFi[2] dongle that 3 were offering, I was interested. What you get is a small device that looks something like a mobile phone without a keypad, a USB cable and a charger. If you’re going to use it regularly, there are various contract deals available, or if, like me, your use is more likely to be intermittent, you can buy the device and top up with data as and when you need to. So, after a quick look in my local 3 shop, I bought one. I paid £49.99 for the device, and £10 for 1GB of data. I have to point out that data top-ups expire after 30 days, so it’s not worth buying more data than you’re going to use.

3 MiFi

3 MiFi

The device I got has five icons which light up on the front to display various status information – battery, 3G signal strength, wireless network on, 3G connection. To conserve battery life, these turn themselves off quite soon after a connection is made. The model now on sale has a fancy OLED display which I believe is able to keep its lights on all the time. Otherwise, it’s essentially identical.

There is some inbuilt software on the device which allows for more advanced configuration (change the SSID and wireless key, send and receive text messages, etc), but this is Windows only. However, you don’t actually need to run it to use the device, so that’s not a problem for Mac users. I’ve heard that it’s possible to update the firmware to a version that allows you to use a web interface to manage it, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t comment on that.

Anyway, enough preamble – how does it work? Well, you turn it on, press a button to make it connect to the 3G network, then turn on the wireless function. Your computers (up to five at a time!) can then connect to the new wireless network. The SSID and key are provided on a card that comes in the box, and are also on a label inside the battery compartment.

So, once you’re connected, how good is it? Well, if you’re in a good signal area, it’s actually very good. I connected my work laptop to one[3] and found that access to websites was generally faster than using the office’s shared internet connection. Quite a lot faster, in fact. At home, I found that it connected with a good signal more reliably than the USB dongle I had lying in a drawer.

But the real test was the Aberystwyth trip. I wanted to be able to keep up with email, make some posts and upload a few pictures, and I knew the hotel only had WiFi available in the bar[4], so a dongle was needed. And it worked perfectly. No problem getting a connection – admittedly this was in the heart of the town, but I’ve suffered from poor mobile signals in bigger and busier places than Aber[5], so I had been prepared for some problems, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Battery life – you can probably get half a day out of a full charge, but it’ll happily take power from a USB port if necessary, and if you take the charger along, you can charge it overnight.

I found I used a lot less data than I was anticipating – according to the 3 website[6], I used less than 500MB, despite doing a lot of email, web browsing, picture uploading and the like.

The only downside of this device is the fact that you need to press a button to make the status lights come back on if you want to check the battery or signal status, but as that seems to have been addressed in the new model, I can give this full marks. Good technology, well implemented.

Details from 3

Oh, and they generally let you take it back for a refund within two weeks of purchase if it doesn’t do what you want.

[1] Doesn’t happen often, but it’s frustrating when it does
[2] Seems to be a combination of “Mobile” and “WiFi”. Presumably they though MoFi might be a problem….
[3] Having been impressed by my personal one, we got some for work to replace the O2 dongles we’ve had for a few years
[4] My MacBook detected it as a verrrrrry weak network from my room
[5] As the locals tend to call it
[6] You can always top up from the site, even if your credit has run out

Stuff Report – 11 July 2010

Having a quiet day in after the travelling thing, and the camera’s having a rest, too.

Here’s one from last week’s visit to Cardiff Bay – it’s an HDR image of the Pierhead Building, seen from the steps in front of Senedd.

Pierhead HDR

Pierhead HDR

I’m still just playing with the HDR stuff – more experiments will follow…

Charlie Brooker – The Hell of it All

From one Charlie to another. I’ve been enjoying Charlie Brooker’s TV reviews and other bits in the Guardian for an arbitrarily long period of time, but until now I haven’t read any of his books. Anyway, I was in Waterstone’s recently and found myself tempted by their ongoing three for two deal on paperbacks, which led to me buying this collection of columns, which are mostly reprints from the paper starting from August 2007 and running up to August 2009. I say “mostly” because there’s at least one that the Guardian declined to print on the grounds that it was too bleak, and several have had the original wording restored after editors decided that Charlie was being a wee bit too rude even for them.

If you’re not familiar with Charlie from his various TV appearances, you should be warned that his default attitude is grumpy with curmudgeonly overtones. About half the columns here are his “Screen Burn” items from the Guardian’s Saturday Guide supplement. These are exactly how good reviews should work – telling you all you need to know about diabolically bad TV shows and saving you from having to actually watch the damn things. “Reality” shows get the skewering, roasting and general mockery they deserve, for instance. Charlie’s invective[1] is so gloriously, spectacularly, viciously over-the-top that reading this book in public may not be a good idea. It’s funny. No, it’s abso-bloody-lutely hilarious.

And there’s more. The Guardian also gives Charlie a licence to write a column about whatever the hell’s annoying him for the G2 supplement. Well, except when they didn’t like the bleak one, but that was on the subject of “why don’t we end it all right now”, so they might have had a point.

Look, there’s loads to read here, it’s bitter, twisted and funny. What more could you ask for? I was so impressed that I ordered the previous two books before I’d finished this one.

[1] My special word of the day

Charles Stross – The Fuller Memorandum

Woo hoo! Yes, it’s the long-awaited sequel to The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue by the increasingly excellent and ubiquitous Charles Stross.

Bob Howard is back, still dealing with the horrors of HR and HP[1], married to fellow agent Mo who has an interesting violin, and with a new line manager who seems almost too good to be true. He still reports to his actual boss Angleton, who hasn’t aged a day in the last mumble years, and who gives him a mission before disappearing…

The bad news is that the return of what it’s convenient to refer to as the Elder Gods, or some such[2] is rather more imminent than previously expected. And there are some sinister cultists who are quite keen on making it even more imminent, and are quite prepared to do Very Bad Things to help it along.

The even worse news is that Angleton’s Cunning Plan to defeat the cultists might just have gone a wee bit wrong, which leaves Bob in Very Deep Trouble.

The better news is that Bob gets a shiny new iPhone, which a helpful colleague improves by adding some apps that would definitely not get past Apple’s approval process.

As with the previous books, this is wonderful geeky fun, managing to combine a bit of scary supernatural[3] thriller with lots of laughs and some moderate silliness.

Apparently advance orders for this book were the biggest ever for one of Charlie’s books, which has encouraged him to get on with another in the series pretty damn soon. Which can’t be soon enough for me.

[1] Lovecraft, that is. Only worse.
[2] Extrapolating from Arthur C Clarke’s line about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic, the idea is that any sufficiently developed species will be indistinguishable  from gods.
[3] Well, mathematical, actually. Sort of.