With almost every gadget under the sun packing a Wi-Fi connection it can sometimes feel like a bit of a waste if there isn't a handy hotspot to connect to while you're out and about.
This problem has been partially solved thanks to the USB dongles and mobile data packages for smartphones, but neither of these is particularly useful if the device in question is not a laptop or a phone. Even when it comes to a laptop, the USB dongles require extra software to be installed to set up the connection, so letting a friend or colleague quickly borrow it becomes a laborious process.
Enter Novatel's MiFi, essentially a very small mobile data router that allows several devices to network over Wi-Fi and share a single mobile data connection.
The MiFi unit is about the same size and weight as a deck of playing cards so carrying it around isn't going to add any serious weight to your bag and even popping it into a handbag or laptop case is not a problem.
The device is very minimal, with a single button with a multicolour LED, microUSB port, microSD card slot and a Wi-Fi status indicator.
The LED lets you see the status of the unit, but with five different colours meaning different things depending on whether it's solid or flashing, this can be a bit confusing at first. Pretty much the only colour of any importance is the red as this indicates a low battery or a device error.
One very minor gripe is that the status LED is embedded within the power button which is fine most of the time, but if you're turning the device on or off your finger completely covers the light so it's difficult to tell what's going on.
If you get a MiFi as part of a mobile data deal it will already be set up and so using it is very simple. When switching it on it automatically initiates a mobile data connection and switches on the Wi-Fi. Up to five devices can be wirelessly connected to the MiFi at any time.
At first the Wi-Fi is completely open so any device can connect without a password. There are several profiles available in the settings to allow you to create an encrypted, password protected connection to help ensure security and prevent anyone nearby from piggybacking on your connection.
If you want to save power you can also connect the MiFi via USB and use it just like a traditional mobile data dongle.
The whole device is controlled through a web interface and provides most of the settings you'd expect from a wireless router such as MAC filtering, port filtering and forwarding, connectivity and power management as well as providing details about the battery and the mobile data signal and connection.
The contents of the microSD card can also be accessed through the web interface or as a removable storage device when the MiFi is tethered to a computer.
It would drain the battery faster but we would love to have seen the MiFi offer some kind of sleep mode whereby it powers up and connects to the internet when it detects a Wi-Fi connection. This would allow users to carry the unit around in a bag and not have to worry about digging it out and switching it on every time they want to use it.
Even if you don't have a 3G data connection, the MiFi can be used as a basic network hub allowing you to connect several devices to share information, and the onboard SD card can also be a great way of sharing content.
As with most wireless devices battery life is going to depend a lot on how much data it's handling, so a lot of downloading or connecting several devices will take its toll pretty quickly. That said we managed to easily get several hours of constant use out of a single charge, and average use saw the device lasting around two days between charges. The added bonus is that if the battery dies you can simply tether it to your laptop and use it that way.
The MiFi is a great piece of kit and if you're in the market for a mobile data package we would definitely recommend that you try and get one of these rather than the standard USB dongles included in most packages.
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