Let’s start with the first issue; actually, it’s not called a MiFi in the UK, it’s called the Novatel Wireless Intelligent Mobile Hotspot 2352, as 3UK own the trademark MiFi in the UK (although Novatel Wireless own the MiFi trademark in the US). So, the device competes with the 3UK MiFi device, and in some ways is better, and in others, not quite as good.
Firstly, the downside: it is currently only available SIM-free (for around £200), which is a lot more than the 3UK MiFi, which can be picked up for £50. Of course, the 3UK is locked to 3UK, and only works on 3UK, whereas the Novatel MiFi is not locked, and will pick up the internet access point from whatever SIM is put into it, making it more suitable for anyone looking to use a network other than 3UK.
In terms of ease of use, it has one advantage over the 3UK MiFi; when you turn it on (by pressing and holding the power button) that’s it; it sorts everything out, and “just works”, whereas the 3UK unit needs you to then press and hold the 3G button as a second step. The Novatel device also gives you access to the microSD card slot via the web interface, whereas the 3UK device only allows access to the card slot via the USB cable.
There are other minor differences; eg the 3UK device comes with the wireless encryption key under the battery inside the unit, but also on a piece of card to allow easy setup, whereas the Novatel only has the code attached to the inside of the battery cover. This, at first glance, seems better, as it allows the device to remain powered whilst you connect a new device, but I discovered that every time I took the battery cover, my natural instinct was to turn the unit back the right way up (to allow you to see the status lights to see whether the new device had connected), and the battery would loosen enough to switch the unit off. A minor point, and obviously once everything is setup, not a problem in real usage.
Another minor difference is that the Novatel device will work on 2G as well as 3G; whereas 3UK only offer a 3G-only Mobile Broadband service (although their handsets can roam onto Orange’s 2G network, their broadband devices can’t), and although I wouldn’t want to share a 2G connection to multiple devices, a slow connection may be better than no connection…
I’ll be continuing to trial the device for a little while, but at first glances it looks a nice unit, although everyone I speak to says the 3UK MiFi has one of the best 3G radio components available today, so it will be interesting to see how the Novatel device works under the same conditions that I tried the 3UK MiFi under…