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.