Latest MiFi News and Reviews

October 8, 2011

by Chris Marling 

Summary: Three MiFi (Huawei E586)
Price:Unconfirmed. Coming soon
Pros:More style (again), plus a handy cradle; a real dongle beater
Cons:3G mobile broadband speed and reliability; confusing documents
In Brief:The latest 3 MiFi lets you get online with more than one device over mobile broadband. It's just as portable as a dongle, but the added flexibility and functionality of this mobile W-Fi unit makes it preferable in almost every way. 

Out of the box

Inside the standard square cardboard packaging you'll find the usual MiFi bits and pieces - the MiFi, two USB cables (one super short), a USB plug to attach, battery and SIM.
But in addition, Three has taken the welcome step of adding a cradle you can store the device in when at home and when charging. 
In a less welcome step, however, you'll still find a ridiculous array of little booklets (see image below) and other printed paraphernalia. It's enough to make you weep to see what must amount to half a tree crammed in to the box. It's been the same with all three iterations of Three's MiFi device and it beggar's belief - you don't get the same from, say, Voda's mobile Wi-Fi unit.

Initial thoughts

Of course we don't expect anyone to listen to us over in the Three design studios, let alone take any notice if they did, but please, we beseech you - if you can get a message to them, tell them to STOP with all the terrible, mind boggling paper junk they throw into the box.
It may sound like we're joking, but really - just look at this lot. You should be able to count eight different booklets, cards and folded pieces of paper there. Not only is it dumb, but it's completely confusing. We're used to using these kinds of devices too - can you imagine a mobile broadband beginner being faced with this lot?
What makes it worse is that some of it is generic, not device specific, meaning it's even more confusing. There's no excuse for not spending a few extra shekels and putting most of this into one handy, simple to understand instruction and information book.
Beyond this, things improve dramatically though. The MiFi unit itself looks fantastic with its shiny clear front and black plastic back, while the matching cradle is really nicely designed to be all curved and reassuringly chubby. It's nice and small too, so it won't get in the way on your desk. Paper mountain aside, this is the nicest looking, and most practical, mobile Wi-Fi device on the market.

Usage

As we've already hinted at, hopefully you won't need to try and find anything in the instructions - and to be honest, if you've had experience of smartphones, MP3 players and the like, you shouldn't have to.
Popping the SIM and battery in are a doddle, while charging the device (either using the cradle or without) is a simple process of plugging USB shaped pegs into USB shaped holes.
When you plug it into a laptop or PC the MiFi's software installs directly from the device (as it does with a dongle) - no need for CDs and the like. For us, all this went without a hitch.
The cradle is a really nice, as well as practical, addition. Beyond that, in terms of usability the E586 is very similar to its predecessor, the E585. Battery life is still under five hours, but this should be all you need between chages.
The small digital display really does show you all you need to know: connection strength bars, connection type/status, messages and battery level across the top; mobile provider name in the middle and data usage total/time online and roaming status across the bottom. This really is an advantage over a standard dongle, especially the usage data. However, the digital display really is small - if you've got sight issues, you could struggle to be able to read it.
Once set up and powered up, getting online is as simple as finding the 3 MiFi in your Wi-Fi connections list on your device and away you go. One of the eight bits of paper in the box is a 'keepsake card' with the name of the device and its password - handy, but a little pointless when you can press a button on the side of the MiFi to have them both displayed on screen. This however raises some interesting issues around security of the device, which we'll try and look into further at a later date. 

Speed and coverage

If you've checked out our last Dongle on the Move Awards (if not, you should) you'll know that Three's most recent dongle, the E367, won by a comfortable margin. If you're someone who has previously had issues with the provider, it may be worth you taking another look - it has made big improvements to its network in recent times.
However, it must be said that the dongle was the best of a pretty average bunch. With the promise of4G mobile broadband in the wings, things in 3G - both in terms of speed and quality of coverage - have hardly been moving forward at a great pace. You need to accept the fact that, for many of us, mobile broadband will continue to be a somewhat slow and frustrating experience for some time.
On the plus side this unit is somewhat future proofed, allowing for speeds of up to 21.1Mb when Three improves its network (whenever that may be).
If you're willing to take that on board (or have to), you can't really get much better than a 3 MiFi unit in terms of mobile broadband. Just be sure to check out its coverage checker before you take the plunge, as you're not going to get a 3G signal everywhere.

Data

Even though you'll have the freedom to connect several devices at once, this should be done with caution.
First, you have the possible issue of poor connection quality and speeds - this is only going to be highlighted further by trying to get more than one device online with your MiFi.
Second, remember your data restrictions. Luckily, Three has the most generous packages on the market right now with up to 15GB of data per month on some deals right now (September 2011). Just be careful to keep an eye on that, especially if you're sharing the data.

Conclusion

If all this sounds a bit negative, you should instead see it more as cautionary. We don't want to pretend that mobile broadband in the UK is without its problems, but if you take that on board and are happy to go along with it then a Three MiFi unit is one of the best ways to get online.