Sunday, January 3, 2010

Two Months On With the MiFi...

I’d committed to keep y’all up to date on my ongoing experience with my MiFi. After a couple of months of use, I’m still enamored.

Verizon’s network delivers as promised, with only a few occasions where I’ve had little or no signal; ironically, in each of those situations I’ve been able to fail back to my previous connectivity method of Bluetooth tethering to my 2G T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve, so I have yet to encounter a situation where I’m totally off the air, although I realize that it’s just a matter of time until I do.

The power characteristics of the device are interesting (he says euphemistically). From a full charge, I’ve been pretty consistently getting four hours or so of use when on EVDO Rev. A. At least, I think I have—the mechanisms to determine power remaining pretty much suck. The on-screen display on the web-based management screen offers a battery icon with four levels, meaning that when you’re at two levels remaining, you’re probably in the neighborhood of 50%. Maybe—I’ve seen the device come off of full charge and show me only three levels, so it’s an inexact science, as is the device status option, giving you a number from zero to four in terms of charge remaining.

That said, I can’t fault Novatel for not offering a more concrete, hours-and-minutes-remaining option. EVDO Rev. A connectivity is not just fast, but is also the most power-efficient; when the MiFi drops back into 1xRTT mode, the battery drains faster—and the device superheats, so much so that it becomes uncomfortable to carry in a shirt pocket. Since I’ve ended up in many situations where I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Rev. A and 1x, the device would spend too many cycles trying to figure out an hours-and-minutes-remaining calculation, so I understand the reason for just having a simple battery icon.

Speaking of heat, the heat the device puts off is a minor nit. Yes, it runs hot, but it’s only an issue if the unit is pressing against your skin; even in a pants pocket, it’s not a big deal.

A bigger nit is the input juice required to actually charge the device. I carry a USB charging block, which is a compact wall-wart with fold-out plug blades and two USB ports. Sadly, the block won’t charge the MiFi, even when using the USB charging cable included with the MiFi. Numerous bloggers have written about this issue, so I won’t go into it here. Just know that you really only have two options to charge your MiFi—plug it into the wall using the included AC adapter, or plug it into your wall-powered computer using the included USB-to-microUSB cable. Note that I say “wall-powered computer”. I can’t speak to the battery-based charging capabilities of non-Macs, but I can speak to my own experience.

Here’s an example. Last month, I needed to participate in a two hour GoToMeeting while driving from Falls Church, VA to Linthicum, MD. (Don’t try this at home…I’m a professional.) I plugged a half-charged (according to the battery icon, at least) MiFi into my fully charged MacBook using the MiFi’s USB-to-microUSB cable, and hit the road. The only application running on my Mac at the time was GoToMeeting; all radios were off, since I was USB-tethered to the MiFi. While I’m fortunate that the drive ended up taking well less than two hours, by the time I ended the call, I’d just about run out of battery on both the MiFi and my MacBook. This MacBook celebrates its second birthday next week; while the battery is nowhere near factory fresh, I typically get about four hours of use when in travel mode (radios off, a couple of applications running in lightweight form). Thus, I was very surprised to find that not only did my Mac bite the dust much faster than I would’ve expected, but the MiFi being plugged in provided no charging benefit whatsoever—and in fact may’ve been detrimental to the Mac’s battery charge. I haven’t performed any scientific testing on this topic, but you should consider it in your own use—be aware that if you’re not wall-powered, you may derive no charging benefit from being physically tethered.

Finally, I haven’t bumped up against the five gigabyte per month data transfer cap yet. My MiFi use tends to be very bursty—if I’m on the road in a hotel that expects me to pay for Wi-Fi, the MiFi becomes my lifeline. But, if I’m in a location where I have ready access to a network, the MiFi remains off (yet fully charged). That said, it’s invaluable at certain times. Earlier today, about five minutes before my flight pushed off the gate, I needed to do something on the Internet that was going to be a pain from my BlackBerry. I turned on the MiFi for the first time in more than two weeks; as it roared to life, I popped my Mac open (again giving thanks for the fact that the Mac’s OS/hardware pairing enables me to resume from sleep in moments, rather than the minutes typical on “other” computing platforms), hopped on the ‘net, took care of business, and was back offline in about three minutes. The absolute immediacy of being able to do so via Wi-Fi made the process seamless—no USB stick to plug in, no connection manager software to launch to connect. Just a button press on the MiFi, the opening of my Mac’s lid, and VOOM.

While I eagerly await the forthcoming 3G/4G MiFi Novatel’s developing for the Sprint network, I’ve found the investment in my Verizon MiFi to be absolutely worth it—my best purchase of 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mike, I've had the MiFi through Sprint for a few months now, really like it; does run hot though; best change since I got it is that now it does work while plugged in and recharging.