A few months ago I upgraded my 2-year-old Verizon Wireless Broadband USB modem to the Verizon MiFi 2200 and I love it! I had read the usual product reviews and watched David Pogue’s video about it and decided to take the leap. My impression having put the MiFi through the paces for a couple of months of travel is that it’s very convenient to have wireless broadband access on multiple devices and Verizon’s network is good. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing to get it up and running, so take note in the beginning.
What is the MiFi?
If you don’t know, the Verizon MiFi is a wireless modem and WiFi router. In short, you can use it to access the Internet on any WiFi enabled device anywhere that has Verizon Wireless connectivity. The WiFi piece is the kicker for me–you can connect up to five devices to it. No cables needed.
I use my Verizon Wireless Broadband primarily when I travel (for work and play). The convenience is unbeatable and I can avoid having to pay access fees for slow hotel WiFi (kills me to have to pay $12-15/day for 802.11b connectivity!). When I travel I often find myself sitting in hotel lobbies, coffee shops, restaurants, train stations, on the Acela, airport lounges, with a fair amount of downtime and being able to connect to the Internet regardless of where I am has countless benefits. At $60/month, the Verizon Wireless Broadband makes for a decent deal.
Setting Up the MiFi
The initial set up was a bit confusing. A lot of the documentation included in the box were for setting up phones and didn’t apply. The main set up document said to call a toll free number from your new mobile phone. I looked all over the MiFi but couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to do that.
There was another booklet which said that when you plug the MiFi into your computer via the USB cable it would automatically prompt you to download the preloaded VZ Access Manager software (Verizon’s software for connecting to the Internet when the MiFi is attached via USB) from the MiFi. Problem with this was that I already had a version of VZ Access Manager for my old USB modem and I think this resulted in a conflict. The VZ Access Manager I had running on my MacBook recognized that I had a device attached but it was incompatible. Nothing happened.
I had no idea that there were different versions of the management software for different devices, but after awhile I figured there was a problem. So, off I went to hunt down the right software. After I found the right page on the Verizon website (they don’t make it obvious) I uninstalled my previous version of the VZ Access Manager and downloaded and installed the new version.
Attempting to Activate the MiFi
The next step was to activate the MiFi. If it was a phone you’d simply dial the toll free number and follow the instructions. Instead you’re supposed to activate it via the VZ Access Manager with the MiFi connected via USB. I tried this and got a response saying that it was activated but I couldn’t get it to work. After a couple of times I said, “Fuck it,” and called Verizon.
30 minutes on the phone…
And we’re off!!!
Bottomline, the documentation sucks and would be a real problem for anyone who isn’t tech savvy or used to setting up devices. So, pick up the phone and call Verizon right away if it doesn’t work the first time around. It’ll save you a lot of time.
Using the MiFi
Activation and set up aside, using the MiFi is amazingly easy. Walt Mossberg and others have covered this really well. It really is as simple as pressing the button (there’s only one), waiting a few seconds, searching for the network on your computer, entering the code, and…and…that’s it. You’re off and running.
Verizon’s Network Performance
I connected both my MacBook and iPhone to the MiFi and was able to get really decent speeds. By decent I mean up to 1.5 to 1Mbps down pretty consistently (I clocked over 2Mbps while I was in Boston). Verizon’s broadband is much faster than AT&T’s 3G so surfing the web and downloading email on my iPhone was much better via the MiFi was a better way to go.
Web pages loaded up very smoothly and virtually as fast as my RCN cable at home. Email downloaded perfectly fine. In other words, a VERY acceptable performance. Not sure if I’m ready to go with it as a cable replacement yet. Maybe. Verizon’s 5GB/month limit is a bit annoying.
Interestingly, it performed much better than my old USB modem. Since my old USB modem was over 2 years old, I assume there are some inefficiencies to be expected and some problems that must’ve been solved with the MiFi.
The big test for me was traveling along the Northeast corridor via the Acela. I was very pleasantly surprised. Whereas my old USB modem would run into deadzones and come crashing down, this was relatively rare with the MiFi.
I had considered switching to AT&T’s 3G or even Sprint (blech) and read a few interesting comparisons online but alas, I’m glad that I stuck it out with Verizon. I just don’t trust AT&T’s claims that they’re improving the 3G network. I have an iPhone and see NO evidence of improvement. If anything, it’s gotten worse.
The other thing that I enjoy is that because the MiFi has a range of about 30 feet (claimed), I can spare the precious tray table space and just leave the MiFi in my bag. No tangled and cumbersome cables. I did notice that the MiFi can get really hot. To counter this I simply try to keep it in a fairly open place in my bag rather than tucking it into a corner somewhere. If I do this it doesn’t heat up too badly.
Battery Life and Charging
Verizon claims that you can get up to 4 hours on a full charge. That’s about right based on my experience. When the battery dies I simply grab the USB cable and stick it into my MacBook.
I haven’t clocked the charging time but it doesn’t seem unreasonable. I’ve also not used the wall charger much as I usually just plug it into my MacBook.
One thing that I noticed was that when you use the wall charger the LED stays green (notifying the user that a) it’s on or b) a full charge. A bit puzzling because when you plug it into your computer via USB to charge, the LED turns a light green as it charges and glows bright green when it’s fully charged. How then do you know when it’s fully charged if you’re using the wall charger? A minor point but it’s not that helpful for someone with charger OCD.
What I like about the MiFi
1. It looks really cool.
2. Its size. Small.
3. It works as advertised.
4. Multiple device connectivity. Great for business or small group usage.
5. Verizon network.
What could be better
1. Activation process.
2. Quirk with indicator LED when using wall charger.
3. Battery life. Don’t we always want more? 4 hours is decent though.