Three MiFi Huawei Wireless Modem E586 £90
4th Sep 2011 | 23:00
The best way to get mobile broadband for tablets and laptops?
Three MiFi E586: Overview
The way the tablet market has shaken out, it looks like those who want 3G built into their iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 will have to pay a hefty price for the privilege (on the iPad, for example, having the option costs an extra hundred pounds). And that's before you get to actually paying the networks.
The MiFi was introduced as a cunning way to reduce this cost, and not just for tablets, but laptops, media players anything else Wi-Fi.
What devices such as the Three MiFi Huawei Wireless Modem E586 do is connect to mobile broadband, and act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five devices, making it ideal for Wi-Fi-only iPad owners, or even iPod touch users.
As you might expect, you've got your choice of monthly or pay-as-you-go plans, with the MiFi E586 costing around £90 on PAYG with 3GB of data for three months. The contract pricing hasn't been announced yet, but the previous model, the E585, was free with a monthly package.
You may be asking that, if there's already a MiFi out, what's new about this one? What does the extra digit in the 586 get you?
Aside from a small redesign of the front fascia to being all glossy black, and the addition of a Key button that shows you the SSID and WPA key for connecting to the device, this is an HSPA+ modem, offering up to 21.1Mbps download speeds.
Three is rolling out HSPA+ to its networks during this year, so there's no guarantee yet if you'll be able to get that sort of speed in your area (and even you are in the right area, odds are you won't get that much anyway), but being future-proofed for more speed is no bad thing.
The MiFi is nice and light, weighing just 81g, so you won't really notice it if you just sling it in a laptop bag or in your pocket.
On the side of the MiFi is an on/off switch, which you press once quickly to see the OLED display, which we'll go into on the next page. On the bottom is a micro-USB port for charging or making a wired connection to a computer.
There's also a microSD card slot, which supports cards up to 32GB. The idea is that you can share files stored on the card with the devices connected to the Wi-Fi network.
In the box you get a long USB cable and a short one, a mains plug, and a charging cradle for proudly displaying your MiFi to all.
Three MiFi E586: Performance
Three MiFi E586: Performance
Setting up the Three MiFi Huawei Wireless Modem E586 is as simple as it gets: pop off back cover, insert SIM card, insert battery, turn on. You may need to charge it somewhere in there, but the principle remains.
There's no software or anything to set up before you start using it – just connect and go. If you want to change any settings or anything, then you can just type in http://3.home from your browser to access all of the options.
The screen on the front is great for keeping track of simple information. It shows your current connection strength, how many Wi-Fi devices are connected, the battery level, the amount of data used and the time you've been connected.
As we said, press the new Key button and it will display the SSID of that particular device, and the key to connect to it, which makes it a breeze to give access to a new device.
Once we'd got connected and were out and about, we found the MiFi to generally be quite a strong performer. We got several different speed readings using the Speedtest.net app as we moved around, but were generally getting just above 2Mbps.
Notably, this was better than a 3G phone we had for comparison (though it was on a different network), which managed generally between 1.5Mbps and 2MBps.
Of course, that kind of speed test doesn't tell you much about how things will perform in the real word, but we can say that general web browsing with the MiFi E586 was perfectly acceptable. Sometimes there was a short delay before pages started to load, but even media-heavy sites such as TechRadar or BBC Sport didn't take long at all before they were good to go.
Similarly, YouTube video was able to play without any wait for buffering – the MiFi was able to keep well ahead.
Obviously, all of this has to be tempered by the coverage where you live. The coverage checker on Three's site doesn't differentiate between different speeds of 3G coverage, but we were testing in Bath city centre, which has far better coverage than most rural areas, but not quite as good as many other cities, especially London.
The MiFi is also strong when it comes to battery life. It's rated for 4.5 hours of use, and we'd say that's accurate, but for continuous use, not just a bit of browsing here and there.
One afternoon, we took it out with us and had devices connected to it for six hours, browsing the web, watching a couple of YouTube videos, but then moving on and letting it sleep while we found somewhere new to test it. Afterwards, it still had half its battery left.
Though this means you couldn't get, say, a continuous day's work on a laptop out of the MiFi E586, it should last you most of the day for the usual kind of pick-up-and-put-down tablet use.
If you really want to take control of battery life, though, you can opt to let it not automatically connect itself to the mobile networks when you connect to it through a device, but instead make it so that you have to manually tell it to connect. This will stop anything like background email fetching or Push notifications using battery life.
Three MiFi E586: Verdict
Three MiFi E586: Verdict
The 3 MiFi Huawei Wireless Modem E586 is a tablet lover's best friend. You can save yourself the outlay on something like a 3G iPad, get the Wi-Fi-only version and spend the rest on Haribo (or whatever the kids are into these days).
There is a question to be asked as to whether one is necessary for you, though; many phones, including lots of Android handsets and the iPhone 4 now have the ability to share their 3G connections with a Wi-Fi hotspot – just like the MiFi is intended to do.
There are lots of reasons not to do this – you may not want to drain your phone's battery this way, or the MiFi may get a faster or stronger connection than your phone – but it may be worth exploring before you splash out, or sign up for another contract.
The MiFi is the very definition of convenience. Simple to set up, completely painless to use, and light and small enough to forget about when carrying it.
The connection quality was generally very strong, and this translated into good practical browsing speeds. You may not get 21Mbps, but you can load websites, check Facebook and even watch videos with ease.
And, yes, it's likely to be a damn sight cheaper than getting a tablet with 3G built in.
The fact that it's hard to know if and when Three's HSPA+ rollout is coming to your area is frustrating, and the MiFi E586 has the usual caveats of mobile broadband – areas of mysterious dropped signal, for example – but this is just a fact of the technology as it stands.
Though we do see the MiFi as being good value for money, it does suffer from the fact that it could be considered an unnecessary extra if your phone can serve the same function.
The Three MiFi E586 is a very handy little device, and anyone looking at getting a 3G tablet or laptop should definitely consider it before splashing out on the pricier hardware.