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New Three MiFi – First impressions

This evening I spent some time (along with a bunch of other bloggers and assorted geeks) hearing about and looking at the successor to Three’s MiFi. And, if my first impressions are correct, I think that Three has addressed just about every issue that I had with the original MiFi, and then some.

Most of the improvements that have been made to the MiFi are around usability, which gets a big “hurrah” from me. As a concept, I loved MiFi. Having your own portable wireless hotspot means you don’t have to play the SIM-swapping game if you have multiple devices you want to use when out and about – or, worse still, have multiple 3G contracts, one for each device.

And there’s no doubt that if you have a device like the WiFi-only iPad, the previous MiFi was a perfectly good, functional way of getting it connected online, anywhere.

The problem with it was that functional was just about all you could say. It worked, and when connected, worked well. But connecting was not exactly an enjoyable process. Press one button to turn it on. Press a second button to start up the 3G data connection. Press a third button to start up WiFi. Wait until all the lights stopped flashing, and then try and work out the cryptic combination of reds, greens and ambers.  Then hope that you didn’t lose the signal – because if you did, you’d have to go through the same sequence again.

I actually became convinced that there was a magic sequence, an order in which you could press all the buttons to get the perfect signal. Working it out became like the quest for the holy grail. Top button, bottom button, middle? Middle, held down for five seconds, then top? Which one would unlock the secret treasure of a higher-speed connection?

The new MiFi has taken a lesson from the Apple School of Design (motto: “Minor est magis”) and taken off every button that you really didn’t need – which leaves you with one. Yes, you press one button, and it turns on the 3G and WiFi, gets a connection, and that’s it. Done. It takes a few seconds, but you can be online and ready in as little as two seconds with a strong signal and a fair wind in the tropics. That’s a massive improvement. As Steve Jobs would say, “boom”.

If that was all that Three had changed, it would be “job well done, thank you very much, I’ll have two”. But there’s a couple of other areas that they’ve improved, all of which add up to a better experience.

The first is the screen. Oh yes, the mystery lights have gone in favour of a small, easy to read OLED display, which shows you all the information you need about the MiFi’s connection status – in proper words and numbers! – while also having handy info like the data usage for the current session and any SMS or service messages it’s received. The screen isn’t on permanently, though as that would waste power.

And power is the second area of improvement. There’s a few tweaks to the battery which should improve the time it takes to charge, significantly. What’s more – and a big “hallelujah” for this – the MiFi now actually charges when it’s in use if it’s connected to power.

Finally, something that will please everyone who hasn’t surrendered to the Windows hegemony: the MiFi’s dashboard can now be configured via a web browser, which means you’ll be able to do stuff like change its name, monitor usage, and more from your Mac, Ubuntu machine, or Web browser-equipped Psion Series 5. Possibly.

The MiFi 2 will be out around the first week of July. Prices are going to be exactly the same as the current version, as are the tariffs, so expect to pay £49.99 for one on PAYG, less on a contract.

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  • http://www.timalmond.com Tim Almond

    Sounds excellent. Is there any way that these can be used abroad (like replacing the sim with someone else’s sim etc)?

  • Ian Betteridge

    They’re locked to Three, although rumour has it that Three will unlock them for a small fee – I wasn’t able to get anyone to confirm this, though.

  • http://mischook.com Richard I Mischook

    Great write-up and much appreciated. I currently use a Three USB PAYG stick here in Northern Ireland as they seem to have best coverage in the wild parts. I have been thinking of going MIFI so this is good information – I had not realized how poor the current offering was.

    Thanks,

    Richard

  • Ian Betteridge

    Despite all its quirks, I was actually pretty happy with the current offering – it was more flexible than a plain vanilla 3G stick, even if it was fiddly! But I’ve certainly got to give credit to Three (and Huawei) for focusing in on the things that annoyed customers about the old one, rather than piling on more features and forgetting to make them usable.

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  • kimptoc

    Hi,

    Thanks for the update – any news on whether it supports more 3G bands, eg 850 mhz or 900 mhz? I tried one of the old models in Jamaica and it wasnt compatible with the local 3G provider (Claro).

    Thanks, Chris

  • Ian Betteridge

    Sadly, no information on that – will try and find out!

  • Stef Pause

    Unfortunately there’s not much information available about this device still. I do know that it’s a rebranded Huawei E585, though, which may be of use to someone.

    Have you got one yet, Ian? You wouldn’t know if it has an port for attaching an external 3G antenna, by any chance?

  • Daniel

    Hi is the wifi n rated now

  • http://mificlub.com Taige

    Thanks for the review and it is great. I don’t see how novatel can justify their pricing…

    By the way, what do you think about my business? We rent out mifi devices to international visitors who want convenient internet. Can you write about my site?

    http://mificlub.com

    Thanks

  • ljay

    these can be unlocked.

    and unlock codes are readily evailable on FLeBay…

    ;)

  • Jed

    Whats even better is that I can now make video calls from my iphone 4 via mifi whilst out and about! Apple facetime only works over wifi and is therefore free but restricted to home use or hotspots. I now have my own personal hotspot! Technology….LOVE IT!!!

  • paul

    can i play my ps3 through this

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