Three MiFi – Take Two

Back in the summer, I mentioned that I’d been moderately impressed with my Three MiFi thingy. Since then, we got some for business use in the office, and they’ve been pretty useful.

I mentioned at the time that shortly after I bought the MiFi, a newer, shinier and altogether niftier model had come out. I wasn’t too bothered because I bought it when I needed it, and it did the job just fine.

But before my entertaining Wales trip, I decided that I needed a new toy, and rather than just buying a top-up for the MiFi, I bought a new one, which came with a whole 3GB of data, which would be active for three months.

And here it is

Best thing since unsliced really nice bread

Best thing since unsliced really nice bread

Best thing since unsliced really nice bread

While the original MiFi worked quite nicely, it did have some “version one” tendencies. First, there’s getting a connection, which involves pressing three buttons in sequence, possibly more than once, until a particular light comes on. Then there was the Windows-only console, which made changing the wireless security settings a non-trivial operation for Mac and Linux users.

The new one, by contrast, approaches perfection. Press the single power on button, and it starts up. The friendly OLED display tells you what’s going on, with a normal signal strength indicator, a 3 or H which tells you if you’re on a moderately quick or quite nicely quick connection, a little indicator showing how many devices are connected to your wireless hotspot, and a proper battery strength meter. It also displays how much data you’ve shoved through it in the current session, which is useful if you’re worried about using all your allowance.

Then there’s the console. Totally web-based, works with all browsers. No software to install at all, which is really nice. The console lets you read any text messages Three might have sent you, repeats the handy information that’s on the device’s display, and provides a useful link to the Three website where you can check how much of your data allowance you have left, top up and generally check your account.

I decided to give it a proper work out, and rather than borrowing my brother’s wireless, I used the MiFi for a week, and I have to say it worked perfectly. It was quite happy to recharge itself from the supplied USB cable (even when the MacBook was in sleep mode, nice). A mains adaptor is provided, but I haven’t needed to use it. The documentation suggests that if you run it off the mains, the wireless range increases from a useful 10 metres to a quite impressive 30 metres, but I haven’t had cause to check that. In a week, I managed to use about 1GB, which included downloading a couple of books to my Kindle. For the kind of use I had – email, web browsing, RSS feed reading, some video clips on BBC News and YouTube – the performance was more than adequate. Big downloads would be a bit slow when compared to my Virgin service, but overall I’d say it was as good as a lot of ADSL connections, though this will vary depending on where you are, of course.

As an addded benefit, it has a MicroSD slot. I’m not sure what I’d use that for, but it’s quite cool that you can apparently browse the card from the MiFi’s web console thingy page.

The original MiFi was very good, and I was happy to recommend it to anyone who’d listen. This version does the same job, but makes it easier to use, and it’s in cool black with a cool OLED display, which is obviously better.

This is a totally recommended product. Coverage may vary, but I find I can get a strong data signal from Three at home, at work, at my brother’s home, and at Cardiff and Newcastle airports. My O2 iPhone struggles to get a data connection that’s any use in most of those places. My work O2 BlackBerry has the same issue, so it’s not the iPhone, it’s just me being awkward about where I work and live. Or something like that.

So when my iPhone contract expires in the summer (by which time the next model should be out), I’ll more than likely be talking to Three. They’ve got a rather nice deal which offers unlimited[1] data for roughly what I’m paying O2 now. And unlike O2, it seems that this includes tethering the phone – basically making it do the same job as the MiFi at no extra cost. So I may retire the MiFi then, depending on this and that.

Anyway, the MiFi is available on pay as you go for occasional users, and on contract for serious mobile data users. Depending on your needs, it could even replace a fixed broadband service…

Details from Three.

Oh, and when I found myself abandoned at Cardiff Airport, it was really useful to be able to get on the internet and sort out my travel arrangements.

[1] And it seems they don’t mean the usual by “unlimited”, which usually translates to “subject to our fair use policy of no more than 750MB per month”, which makes you wonder why they don’t just say “up to 750MB per month” in the first place. No, they’re actually saying “we mean unlimited”, presumably working on the basis that 95% of customers won’t use more that 500MB most months….

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