Monday, September 26, 2011

Three MiFi Huawei E586 review

I am a huge fan of Three UK's MiFi, a product I rarely leave home without. In fact, it was my gadget of 2010, a huge testament to a simple and affordable gadget. So when Three UK announced the new MiFi Huawei E586, my eyes lit up with wonder and immediately request to review one. While Three refers to the new MiFi as the 'High-Speed MiFi', for the sake of this review, I will simply refer to the Huawei E586 as the MiFi v3.

Before I continue, a short explanation of what a MiFi is and how it works. Basically, a MiFi is a portable wireless router that you can use to connect multiple devices to the internet via a single data connection. This makes it an effective and economical way of accessing the internet wherever you are with whatever gadgets you have. Up to five gadgets can be connected to the MiFi at the same time.

The MiFi v3 is an evolution of the Huawei E585. Even the model number reflects this. Still, Huawei and Three has introduced a number of improvements that makes upgrading from the old version a tempting proposition. Firstly, the MiFi v3 now includes a HSPA+ radio, boosting download speed up to 21.1 Mbps HSDPA and upload speed at 5.76 Mbps HSUPA. However as Three UK are only currently rolling out their HSPA+ upgrade, not everyone will be able to enjoy this upgrade in speed. Download speeds in my area regularly top out at 4 Mbps with the new MiFi, no doubt because HSPA+ has yet to arrive here. Unfortunately there is no way to tell which of Three's cell towers has been upgraded.

The next improvement comes in the form of a new button. In my review of the MiFi v2, I noted how simple the design was with just one useful button - but with this, a new button is introduced that when I look back, makes sense and I can not understand why this wasn't introduced sooner. The 'key' button when pressed displays the SSID of the MiFi as well as the passkey. So no longer do you need to remove the battery cover to check for the passkey. Another good improvement in usability comes in the form of the MiFi displaying the total amount of data use, not just in a particular session (like in the MiFi v2). This allows the user to keep in check the amount of data allowance left to use.

Like the MiFi v2, a microSDHC card slot can be found on the left side. This will allow you to turn the MiFi into a USB storage. It will also feature a OLED screen, where useful information such as signal strength, number of connected devices and data consumption will be displayed. In fact apart from some changes in materials used it would be difficult to differentiate the two. The rubberised battery cover from the MiFi v3 can even be used on the old MiFi. It is however slightly thicker than the MiFi v2.

The small OLED screen is bright and shows a wealth of information, including the aforementioned SSID and passkey. By default, the screen will display the signal strength, the amount of devices connected to the MiFi, battery level, indicator for text messages, amount of data consumed and up time. Each MiFi also has an online dashboard where it is possible to manage the account related to the MiFi. Once accessed, the dashboard allows one to change the SSID and passkey as well as view the current MiFi's signal strength and view the text messages. You can also change the security settings. For example the SSID can be hidden and devices can be blocked via MAC filtering.

While Three did not advertise this, I found that the new MiFi is able to last longer than the older MiFi. In fact, despite using the exact same battery as the old MiFi, the new MiFi was able to last about 2-3 hours longer. On most days I was able to eke roughly 5 hours on the old MiFi, but with the new MiFi getting 7-8 hours on a single charge was normal. The improvement is staggering especially when I find that the new MiFi was able to reconnect quicker than the old MiFi, as well as having a better reception overall. Both of the MiFi boots up in the exact same time.

Three has also kindly supplied a new cradle charger with the new MiFi. It's a simple black unit that allows you to dock and charge the MiFi when in home. This also cements my belief that the new MiFi is marketed at people who may want to use it as a complete home broadband replacement. Unfortunately as Three has not extended their AYCE price plan with the new MiFi, the MiFi would not make a good home broadband replacement, though the £18.99 for 15GB a month plan may still be feasible for some people.

The best deal for people willing to commit on a contract is the MiFi 5GB plan with rolling one month contract. For £15.99 a month, this gives you 5GB data allowance per month, with the MiFi costing a one-off £50. If you are in it for the long haul, the 5GB on an 18 month contract will cost more at £18.99, but you won't have to pay for the MiFi. There is also a cheaper 1GB on a 18 month contract that costs £10.87, but after using 500MB in less than a week mainly via my smartphone, I am hesitant to recommend this plan.

As a fan of PAYG system, I would recommend most people to take the 12GB on 12 month pre-paid deal. For £129.99 you get 12GB to spend over a twelve month period, whichever ends sooner, and the MiFi device itself. This is great for people who do not regularly need their MiFi at times, but is also flexible enough to allow them to use as much data if needed.

Despite the improvements, there are no real reasons to upgrade from the previous version to the new Huawei E586, well, at least until the HSPA+ rollout is complete. But if you are in the market for a new MiFi, then I can't suggest anything better than this. Now we only need to convince Three UK that offering a MiFi with a AYCE price plan is the only way forward.


Unknown said...

Good review Jon.. but you forgot to mention that the E586's micro sd card slot cannot be accessed wirelessly even when using its ip address. therefore it is useless placing a micro sd card inside it.

Unknown said...

Good review Jon.. but you forgot to mention that the E586's micro sd card slot cannot be accessed wirelessly even when using its ip address. therefore it is useless placing a micro sd card inside it.