If you're looking for a way to access the Web in all of its glory on your laptop or other Internet connected device while on the go, Verizon's latest MiFi mobile hotspot may be just the ticket. Built by Novatel Wireless for Verizon Wireless, the MiFi 4510L ($99.99 with 2-year contract; $269.99 without) delivers blazingly fast download speeds. Basically, you can think of the MiFi as a much smaller version of the wireless router you have at home, which connects all of your computers, video game systems and other doodads to the Web, just with the added ability to travel with you and your devices quite easily.
Photo courtesy Verizon Wireless
What's in the box
About the size of a Blackberry smartphone (2.4 x 3.7 x 0.5 inches), the 4510L MiFi is a simple device, with a small notification screen (indicates signal strength and battery life) and only one button (power on/off).
The hotspot comes with an instruction manual, along with a microUSB to USB cable that allows you to charge the MiFi via the USB port on your laptop. Additionally, a microUSB wall power adaptor is included to juice up the battery when it gets too low (and yes, you can charge and use the device to surf the Web at the same time).
This has to be one of easiest ways to get online while setting up a small network. There are three steps to getting online:
- Press the power button, and wait for the device to power on.
- Flip the MiFi over and you'll find a 14-digit password printed on the back. Enter the code into the Network Connections setting of your laptop or wireless device.
- Surf the Web!
You can repeat the above process with as many app-filled iPods, tablets, etc., as you wish. Just remember that only five devices can actively use the hotspot at the same time.
Photo by Ocean/Corbis
Speeds of both a tortoise and a hare
We found the download speed of the 4510L fast like a jackrabbit, rivaling both our home and office networks speeds (7 megabytes per second). The upload speed however, had a much slower pace, like that of a tortoise (about half a megabyte per second; closer to dial-up).
What does all this mean? Well, if you plan to watch a few YouTube videos, surf the Web, and read your email or stream Internet radio — you're golden. However, if you want to attach large picture files to your email responses, or upload that crazy cat of yours playing the piano — again — you might want to step away from the device and watch some vegetables in the garden grow, as they will be ready before your video upload and picture attachments are done.
Home network wireless routers vs. MiFi
Unlike the wireless router you have at home, which allows a dozen or more devices to simultaneously connect to it, the 4510L only permits five simultaneous connections. This may sound like a lot less, but in reality it is probably all you and your family will need on that next vacation.
As long as your home router is plugged into the electrical outlet, it will stay on for years; we got about 4.5 hours of battery life out of the MiFi, which will get you through half a work day on the go before having to plug it into a computer or AC outlet for a recharge.
Your home network should have fairly dependable broadband speeds; the MiFi will deliver the same as long as you do not leave the Verizon Wireless data coverage area. For the fast, 7 megabyte per second–plus speeds, you will need to be in a Verizon Wireless 4G data coverage area (which is quite scant at the moment, unless you live in one of the bigger metropolitan areas; think D.C., NYC, etc.). If you leave the 4G coverage area, have no fear as the slower 3G connection will still get the job done while surfing the Web or checking email, just a few seconds slower per click.
If you think about your Internet habits, most of us consume way more content than we produce. Given this nugget of knowledge, you might be thinking that the 4510L may be a way to ditch your expensive Internet service provider (ISP), with the added bonus of always being able to bring the Web with you. A possibility for some, but for most families, it's probable you will end up spending more on data access per month for the device than your regular ISP.
Verizon Wireless has tiered pricing into a few groups, with 2 Gigabytes (GB) per month for $30 — watch one Netflix show, answer a few emails, and light Web surfing; 5GB for $50 — stream a movie, moderate surfing and emailing; and 10GB for $80 — stream about a movie per week, heavy Web browsing and emailing.
Since most traditional, unlimited high-speed access can be had for between $30 and $50 per month, you may find there isn't much of a cost savings monthly between what you are already paying versus the MiFi. That said, you can't connect to your home's wireless router while traveling in a car, train or even bicycle!