Europe gets an upgraded version of the popular device that shares mobile broadband over Wi-Fi – and we like it
The MiFi 2200, on sale in the US, is a small device that connects up to five devices over 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, to a 3G uplink. Reviews have been positive, and the iconic use cases are sharing a 3G connection amongst colleagues at a conference, or keeping a gadget-equipped family happy on a long car journey.
The MiFi 2352, available through Telefonica in Spain, and later this year through distribution and other operators elsewhere in Europe, keeps all that, but adds some features: microSD storage, and GPS location – as well as European 3.5G, HSDPA at up to 7.5Mbps.
It’s also changed from the flat brushed-metal of the US MiFi. We had black device, only 62 x 98 x 15 mm, with a silver trim. This possibly gives it an iPhone look, but in fact reminded more people of a make-up compact. It weighs 81g so (apart from an issue we’ll come to) is no problem to keep in your pocket or bag.
The SIM holder is behind the battery, and setting up is just a matter of slotting a card in, charging and switching on. It charges by USB from a computer, or else using the small supplied mains adapter (with a nice bunch of clip-on international connectors, designed to give you the minimum clutter to carry).
A quick hotspot
The micro access point on the device (supplied by Marvell, apparently) comes up with an easy SSID (“MiFi_2352”) and no encryption. Connecting and browsing is no problem, but it is obviously essential to go straight to the admin page and add WEP or preferrably WPA2 security – both are supported.
The device has a nice clean home page at http://192.168.1.1, where any connected user can access shared files on the microSD card, and anyone with the password can log in and set security features, such as encryption and SSID hiding.
There is a big gap here, however. The printed documentation, the manual on the SD card, and the admin page do not prompt or advise the user to set up encryption. There should be some sort of pop-up warning, directing the user to add a password and maybe change the SSID name. It’s early days and I’d advise Novatel to add that before shipping this to the masses through distribution.
Novatel make 3G dongles and after a bit of wondering (Is it a screenless phone? A wireless shared storage device?) I’ve decided that’s what this is. It’s just a dongle that’s Wi-Fi attached, and shared by up to five devices.
The device has one LED on the power switch, that has its own rather detailed colour language for both the power status and connectivity. Battery status is shown as red (low battery), through flashing amber (charging) to solid amber (fully charged). The uplink goes from green (GPRS) through blue (3G) to purple (HSPA), flashing if the network is available, and sold if it’s connected.
That’s very pretty, but you may have spotted the drawback – it only shows one colour at a time. While it’s connected you see the connection status, but have no indication of battery life. The claimed four hour usage is good (and seems genuine) but I would have liked an indication of how much life is left in the battery.
There’s also a blue LED, which flashes Wi-Fi logo when any device is connected.
Simple to use
The MiFi 2352 really is as easy to use as it says. Within a few seconds, I had it switched on, with a nice solid purple HSDPA light, and my laptop and two phones connected. A couple of minutes more, and I’d added WPA security, set a key and secured the connection. It supports VPN pass-through and is a good simple access point.
I had three devices in my own bag that could usefully hook up to the device: that in a nutshell is the reasoning behind the product. We, and those near us, have increasing numbers of Wi-Fi devices, and sharing a dongle is fiddly.
In a London conference, with the proviso of getting a cellular signal, I was able to work online easily without paying the Wi-Fi charges at the venue (the Institution of Civil Engineers), and offer links out to colleagues.
USB mode when the battery goes
The device delivered pretty close to the claimed four hours of active use, at which point it stopped working, presumably because the power was low. At this point, it’s easy to carry on with the MiFi connected by its USB cable.
The SD card has connection software, which installs automatically. This detects the state of the MiFi and connects through it. Connected by USB, the device charges while in use, but it won’t do Wi-Fi anymore. I’m not sure why this should be, My colleagues and my phones had to revert to other connections
Why not just share your phone’s Wi-Fi?
The most obvious quibble is that anyone with a Wi-Fi capable phone can do the same thing by downloading Joikuspot or similar software which shares an uplink (the Nokia N97 comes with Joiku preloaded). However, MiFi is much easier to run, and is an actual access point, not a hotspot implemented with computer-to-computer links. Also MiFi does not take up resources on your phone.
The downside is that it’s another device, albeit a tiny one. If you’re not juggling a SIM in from another device, it’s also another subscription. But there are cases where it might work really well – for instance, a MiFi plus a couple of iPod Touches (or is that “iPods Touch”) running Skype gives a couple of phones with free calls (admittedly at Skype quality), for the cost of one subscription.
The shared storage is a useful innovation – think of colleagues swapping files. Novatel also envisages that operators shipping the MiFi, or enterprises giving it to their staff, could use that storage, and the onboard 900MHz ARM running Linux, to run applications.
Some of those applications could also use the on-board GPS, a resource which I haven’t tapped – if operators take this on, we’ll see what they come up with.
Conclusion – I like it
The top-line conclusion is that I like this device very much and intend to use it. It’s not yet available in the UK, and only on contract (€29 or €59 a month) in Spain, but it should be cost-effective.
I had only one niggle with the MiFi. It can run quite hot – so much so that it is uncomfortable in a shirt pocket. There’s no safety issue here, as far as I can see, and the battery is safety certified, but Novatel confirmed “the unit can get warm in certain RF conditions where the unit might be in fringe coverage and sending a file, for example”.
A US colleague, who loves his MiFi 2200 tells me that it never gets warm, so it seems the temperature is being pushed up by the extra features Novatel stuffed into the package. Whatever the cause, it’s not a deal-breaker.