Review: the Novatel Wireless Mobile Hotspot (MiFi to you and me)

MiFi

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.

*Contract details:

T-Mobile:

  • Pay Monthly Contract (18 months)
  • Device is free at point of sale, then £20/mth (3GB data according to T-Mobile Fair Usage Policy)

Vodafone:

  • 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
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5 thoughts on “Review: the Novatel Wireless Mobile Hotspot (MiFi to you and me)

  1. Benjamin Ellis

    Sounds like something odd went off with your battery – the unit I’ve had has been fine so far. One feature I’ve found very useful is the memory card slot in the unit -it has been great for sharing files locally without having to upload them via mobile data, then pull them down again.

    Reply
  2. Richard E

    I’m very much enjoying the MiFi I bought unlocked the other week (from Expansys). I put the SIM from my 3 Network dongle into it and it immediately connected to the network both in WiFi and tethered mode.

    Throughput has been very impressive, and it’s definitely a plus on the train: Netbook on fold-down table, MiFi in bag adjacent.

    I had some initial issues connecting to the MiFi’s internal browser: my laptops have explicit DNS servers in their TCP/IP setups and as a result tried to redirect me off to the Net. Fixed it by temporarily deleting the servers.

    Only issue I’ve found is that I can’t get the master reset button to actually do a real reset: it doesn’t seem to dump all the user settings, which is what I want. Not important now, but it was at one point and could be in the future.

    I must also thank @mpxsys on Twitter for helpful support tips and information, without whom, etc etc.

    Reply
  3. Andrew Brightwell

    Additional to offers on Vodafone and T Mobile, I think you can get a Mifi with 3. If memory serves me well there are monthly contract offers, or you can pay 100 quid for the Mifi and get a pay-as-you-go contract.

    Reply
  4. crazy88

    Hello, Mugen Power just released the Extended Battery for for Novatel MiFi 2200, 2352 and 2372.
    it should be last over 10 hours use with 1 charge!

    http://mugen.hk/mugen-power-3300mah-extended-battery-for-for-novatel-wireless-mifi-2352-and-2372.html

    http://mugen.hk/mugen-power-3600mah-extended-battery-for-for-novatel-verizon-wireless-mifi-2200.html

    and if you visit their page on facebook, you can find a discount code:

    http://www.facebook.com/MugenPowerBatteries

    Reply

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