For the last month or so I’ve been playing around with a review copy of Novatel’s MiFi, a portable wifi hotspot that allows you to connect to the web with multiple devices.
It’s a cute bit of kit – slightly shorter than an iPhone, and ideal for journalists because it bridges the need for a wifi hotspot while addressing the limitations of a 3G smartphone.
The technology is pretty straightforward: inside the MiFi is a SIM card which pulls a 3G signal that is converted into that wifi hotspot.
Up to 5 devices can then connect to the web through that hotspot – there’s a password which is shown, intelligently, on the back of the battery cover.
Clearly you need a 3G signal for the MiFi to work – it’s great in urban areas but less successful where there’s poor mobile coverage. But even with a relatively low 3G signal the wifi hotspot is surprisingly strong. And even if you already have access to wifi – or a 3G dongle – the MiFi provides a second, often more reliable, connection for uploading material.
In fact, if you’re relying on 3G connections for mobile journalism I would recommend having a MiFi on one mobile operator, a pay as you go 3G dongle with another, and a smartphone on a third.
I managed to stream video very easily from my laptop, connected to the web on the iPod Touch, and had a group of MA Online Journalism students using it to access the web while we conducted a lesson. (aside from journalism it’s perfect for mobile education).
Sadly, I didn’t get to try out the Eye-Fi card alongside it, but now that it’s hit the UK I’m hoping to play with that too. The Eye-Fi sends images and video straight from an SD card to social media via a wifi hotspot, so you could use an SLR camera or mini camcorder with a MiFi to upload your footage as soon as you shoot it without having to mess with laptops or smartphones (or police officers).
The major weakness, however, is battery power: the specifications say that the MiFi should have 4 hours battery life after a charge (which is, to its credit, quick). But this is shorter if you have multiple devices, and after 4 weeks of using it (and yes, it will have been used by other reviewers), the battery no longer held its charge. Given that you have to sign up to a contract to get the MiFi*, this is rather worrying.
UPDATE: The company that sent me the unit tell me “Standard warranty for the Novatel Wireless Intelligent Mobile Hotspot 2352 is 24 months.”
That aside, this is a must-have piece of kit for me.
- Pay Monthly Contract (18 months)
- Device is free at point of sale, then £20/mth (3GB data according to T-Mobile Fair Usage Policy)
- Pay Monthly Contract (24 months)
- Option (1) Device purchase is £69.99, then GBP 15/mth with 3GB data
- Option (2) Device is free, then £25/mth with 5GB data