Thursday, August 19, 2010

Me and My MiFi

MiFi As a poor person, I can't afford a smartphone, but I do occasionally need mobile internet. In addition, the screen real estate on a smartphone just isn't big enough for me to be able to work effectively. For the last couple of years I've had a T-Mobile 3G dongle, which has been unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, with my occasional usage, I'm not getting value from a £15 a month subscription. Second, the 3G signal is poor, especially at a location in which I need to use the device several times a year (irrespective of the laughable coverage map on the T-Mobile website).

With the conference season coming up, I recently bought myself a PAYG MiFi and have been trying it out. First the good points.
  • PAYG is better value for my pattern of use (even if the credits do expire after 30 days). Depending on the numbers you use (see below), I'd find it relatively difficult to burn £10/1 Gb in a month.
  • Best of both worlds: Netbook for "work", iPod Touch if I want to be more discrete, or "just browse" (but I don't do this - I can't be online for more than a few minutes without needing to do some serious text input).
  • The 3 network is pretty darn good. In fact, I haven't yet failed to get a good signal in any location I have tried the device in, including some fairly remote locations on Dartmoor. Kudos to 3 - the fabled HSDPA has even shown up a few times! I've had three people browsing using separate devices simultaneously with no noticeable speed reduction.
  • The display on the unit is useful, although difficult to read in sunlight.
And the not so good points:
  • The battery life is adequate. Just. If it were doubled, I would describe it as reasonable, but not good.
  • The setup, though improved from the original version of the device, is still fiddly and encourages people to use insecure admin login details. Bad 3!
  • The bandwidth numbers on the unit display don't tally with the numbers on the my3 website. According to the unit, my browsing pattern burns 40-50Mb per hour, But the numbers on my3 are considerably lower. I'm not complaining about this, just saying, is all ;-)
Overall, I am very pleased with the MiFi. T-Mobile just lost a customer, although interestingly, the dongle converts to a backup PAYG device now that I have stopped the contract.