Name: Three MiFi HSPA+ (Huawei E586)
Type: Portable personal Wi-Fi hotspot
Specs: Click here for full specs
Price: £84.99 with 3GB of data/ Free on 18 month tariff at £10.87 per month with 1GB data allowance/ Free on 24 month tariff at £18.99 a month with 15GB data allowance
Three's latest MiFi personal Wi-Fi hotspot certainly is a looker, and with newly-added HSPA+ connectivity, makes some bold claims when it comes to mobile broadband speeds. Can it deliver superfast downloads when out on the road, or will a standard dongle offer similar results? Read on to find out.
If you're even remotely interested in consumer technology (if you aren't, God only know swhat you're doing on this site) chances are that you don't leave the house without several web-enabled devices. From smartphones to games consoles, e-readers to tablets to laptops, if it's got a battery in it, chances are it can connect to the web these days. However, when it comes to mobile broadband, keeping each of these devices connected can be expensive.
Here's where Three's MiFi range comes in. Small, pebble-shaped devices weighing just 90 grams, they're portable, pocketable, battery-powered Wi-Fi hotspots that connect to Three's mobile network and let multiple devices connect to the internet at once, wherever you may be.
On the upside, you're likely to save plenty of dough using a MiFi as you only have to shell out for one tariff every month. In the past, the downside however has been that connection speeds can get a little shoddy when split across multiple devices.
Three's latest MiFi, the E586, more-or-less sidesteps the issue of speed by being the first device to offer a HSPA+ connection. In theory, this gives you download speeds as fast as 21.6Mbps and upload speeds of 5.76Mbps. This, in theory, makes it far more attractive than a regular dongle's 7.2Mbps max download speed.
Great in theory, but how about in practice? Nowhere near as fast, but not too shabby either. In areas of strong signal we regularly topped speeds of 8Mbps, which just wouldn't be possible on a standard dongle, averaging out at 5 or 6Mbps elsewhere. This extra speed boost made connecting multiple devices for simultaneous usage far less of a pain too, making this MiFi kit a real work tool for teams needing reliable web access when out of the office.
Those looking to use the MiFi in a professional capacity will be pleased to hear the many security features built in here too. Though you can easily just pop in the supplied SIM-card and battery, switch on and connect your devices using the SSID/password card, those looking for extra protection can visit http://3.home in their browsers and tweak settings like WPA2-PSK and AES TKIP WPA encryption. You can also use this page to send and receive messages using the MiFi, though the practical application of this feature is limited.
Three still suffer from intermittent coverage blackspots (like, annoyingly, the area of our Central London office specifically where I sit it would seem) but it was very impressive just how often it picked up a HSPA+ connection when out around town. Of course London is likely to have better coverage than more rural spots, so double-check with a coverage tracking site to before a purchase, but even with a standard 3G mobile broadband connection the dongle performed well.
As we alluded to earlier, the new MiFi looks pretty snazzy too. Available in black or white, a small but clear OLED screen shows info on signal strength, connection type, connected devices (as many as five at a time), connection status, messages, battery level, total data usage and roaming state. Charging over USB (or using a supplied cradle) the USB connection can also be used to access the microSD slot on the side of the MiFi (card not included) potentially turning the unit into a portable 32GB drive too. Overall, battery life is excellent too, managing 5.5 hours of heavy usage and as much as 100 hours on standby from a single charge.
Without the HSPA+ capabilities, Three's latest MiFi hotspot would still be a stylish mobile broadband unit capable of reliable, on-the-go connectivity. With HSPA+, and with the flexible tariff system Three have in place, it becomes a genuinely viable alternative to a fixed broadband connection for light internet users. Three still suffer from the odd blackspot, but if you're lucky enough to be within range of a HSPA+ connection here, it's a genuinely excellent bit of kit.