I get asked an awful lot to name my favorite mobile device. My answer is usually the same. Well, I like this device for these things, or another device for those other things, but favorite device really depends upon what you want to do. I never found a device which was perfect for all things. Until now.
Today, I am ready to name my favorite mobile device, and it is probably not what you expect. This one does not have a screen or a keyboard. It does not make phone calls. It does not access the Internet. What it does is provide you with instant access to everything…from every device. That is why the Mifi Intelligent Mobile Hotspot is my new favorite device. Let’s take a closer look.
The Mifi is a small device, which creates a secure wireless connection for all of your device. It will connect up to five Wifi enabled devices to the Internet at a time. That means you can connect your iPod Touch, Zune, netbook, phone, and even an Eye-fi memory card in your camera (well, that is what I would connect, you can choose for yourself.)
Now, Mifi is not the first portable hotspot we have seen. I first encountered this phenomenon with WMWifiRouter, which was a software solution for Wifi enabled Windows Mobile devices. That software used your phone’s data connection and Wifi radio to create a small wireless network. That worked fine, but it was slow, cumbersome to setup, and could not connect more than one device at a time without causing problems.
I have also looked at the Cradlepoint mobile hotspot. This offers much the same idea as the Mifi, but it is much larger, and requires a separate mobile broadband modem…meaning you need to carry around two devices with you to make it work.
Mifi looks an awful lot like what could happen if you combined WMWifiRouter and the Cradlepoint mobile hotspot together. It is a small, sleek device, not much bigger than a credit card, which offers a completely secure connection for up to five wireless devices at a time. This is one of the best features. The small, pocket sized design, unlike the Cradlepoint hotspot, makes it easy to carry with you under almost any circumstances.
By way of controls, there is only one button. Push the power button to turn on the device, and that is really all you need to know. Give it a few seconds and it will automatically connect to the internet while simultaneously sending out a wireless network signal, which can connect to your devices (it uses both the “b” and “g” flavored Wifi).
There are two LED lights you should watch to monitor the status of your Mifi device. The power button will change colors to show the status of the device and battery. basically, as long as you see green you are OK. If you see red or amber, then you should get the battery to a charger.
On the front of the device is a service status indicator. This will blink at various speeds to show whether you are transmitting and receiving a signal. Next to that light is a standard micro-USB connection which you can use to charge the Mifi. Still, a little more specific indication of signal strength would have been nice.
Fortunately, you will find two chargers in the box. One connects to the USB port on your computer, while the other has an AC adaptor.
Additionally, you will also find a small slipcase, in which you can store and protect the Mifi. I really liked this case, because you can use the Mifi without removing it. Though if you do need to remove it to take a look at the LED lights, there are two small notches cut out of the top of the case, which makes it easy to grip the device and slide it right out.
I tested the Mifi extensively. Though before we get to that, I should mention that this unit was loaned to me, although I was provided with a month of free service. Nonetheless, although this one is going back, I should have my own unit coming soon from Sprint.
OK…on to the device. I am something of a mobile broadband warrior. I ride the train for close to four hours (round trip) each day, and frequently whip out my netbook to do some work. Although I have a mobile broadband modem which I use to connect to the Internet, that only allows me to connect one device (my netbook). But there is so much more I want to do, simple tasks like:
— checking out apps in the iTunes App Store
— downloading music on my Zune
— Uploading photos from my Eye-fi
I am sure there are other things, but you get the point. An awful lot of devices rely on wireless networking to get their jobs done, and the number of devices which rely on Wifi is growing daily. While the mobile broadband modem is fantastic, it simply cannot accommodate these tasks. Mifi is basically mobile broadband for all of your devices. It is absolutely incredible to me that this little device can connect everything I own to the Internet…all at the same time. And that is why the tiny Mifi mobile hotspot is my absolute favorite mobile device. It is small, incredibly easy to use at the touch of a button, and extremely powerful (able to connect five devices with a single connection). It may not send emails, take pictures, play music, or make phone calls; but it does make working with all of those things significantly more convenient.
What I Liked: Compact size, easy to use controls, wireless connectivity for any device from just about anywhere.
What Needs Improvement: No easy way to get a good indication of signal strength without a computer.
Price: Varies depending upon network and subsidization. Generally around $100-$150. Typically requires a mobile data subscription, which can be $50-$100/month depending upon the network.
Note that the Mifi 2200 is a CDMA device for use in the United States only. Novatel does make different versions for Europe and Africa, however, those were not tested for this review.