Meet a 3G-connected Wi-Fi access point that fits in your pocket
When you’re ready to step up to the world of cellular broadband connections, there are lots of options. The removable PC Card, USB, and ExpressCard modems deliver great performance and work with pretty much any PC, but they’ll connect only one machine at a time to the Internet—that is, unless you can successfully set up connection sharing in Windows. And while we love the always-on nature of modems integrated in notebooks, their permanent association to a single machine makes the external cards seem positively promiscuous by comparison. Enter the MiFi 2200.
Inside this tiny device—it’s about the same size as a stack of six credit cards—is not only a 3G wireless modem, but also a Wi-Fi access point and a battery to power the whole thing. That’s right, the MiFi 2200 lets you and four of your closest pals connect to the Internet anywhere there’s a 3G cell signal. We tested the MiFi with two computers and a Wi-Fi-enabled phone and were pleased with the results. The battery-powered MiFi seems designed to work with PCs that are no more than 10 feet away. While we had signal further out in some test environments, we found it worked best up close.
The MiFi 2200 is about the size of a stack of six credit cards, but it packs a battery, a 3G cellular data modem, and a Wi-Fi access point into its slick black plastic shell.
To test signal, we took the MiFi to locations throughout the Bay Area, connected a laptop to the device and used Speedtest.net to measure latency, upstream, and downstream performance (see table). We tested the Verizon version of the MiFi 2200, but it’s available in AT&T and Sprint, as well. We wouldn’t want to use the MiFi’s connection for gaming or uploading video—it’s roughly analogous to an inexpensive DSL line—but it’s great for browsing and checking email.
Configuring the MiFi is simple. Plug it into a USB port on your PC and install the software from the integrated flash drive to activate the MiFi. Then unplug it and log into the pre-configured Wi-Fi access point. Once there, you can change many settings common to simple routers—including Wi-Fi security mode and SSID. There’s no driver disc to lose, and most of the settings are accessible using your browser after the initial configuration.
There are a few problems with the MiFi. The power switch is much too easy to turn on accidentally. That said, we didn’t experience battery life problems as a result—even under heavy usage, the MiFi lasted at least a couple of days. We were also disappointed that there isn’t a way to charge the MiFi using a laptop’s USB port without also disabling the Wi-Fi access point. Whenever you plug it into a live USB port, even a standard USB charger, it behaves like a standard USB cellular modem.
The MiFi isn’t perfect, but for the same monthly cost as a single-PC card or USB adapter, it’s a great deal for anyone who wants to connect more than one PC to the Internet... from pretty much anywhere.
Verizon MiFi 2200
Tiny; connects five devices to the Internet; as fast as cheap DSL.
As fast as cheap DSL; turns on accidentally; requires expensive service plan.
Benchmarks were measured using a MacBook Pro running Windows 7 RC. The Office and Home tests were run inside buildings, while the others were outside.