Verizon MiFi: Best laptop 3G yet?

Verizon's tiny MiFi router may be the best solution yet for laptop 3G.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

Verizon's tiny MiFi 2200 router may be the best solution yet for laptop 3G: easily pocketable, a snap to set up, and fast.

Verizon MiFI is a groundbreaking product: a movable Wi-Fi feast.
Verizon MiFI is a groundbreaking product: a movable Wi-Fi feast. Brooke Crothers

Until I picked up the credit-card-size (a few stacked credit cards, to be more exact) MiFi router, I had been connecting via 3G in two ways: one, using a built-in 3G Verizon module inside my Hewlett-Packard laptop and, two, using a BlackBerry Storm as a 3G modem with my MacBook Air.

3G typically provides connection speeds below standard DSL-fed Wi-Fi but is fast enough so the difference is almost undetectable when doing undemanding Web surfing. (See SpeedTest.Net graphic.)

At the risk of waxing effusive, the MiFi is one kick-ass router. Taking up less space than the regulatory verbiage on the back of a standard router, it slips easily into one's pocket and supports five connections.

The MiFi also delivers on the bottom line: connection speed. At various locations, it consistently connected at faster speeds than the Verizon module built into my HP laptop, though both are based on EV-DO (Rev. A) technology. It also outpaced the tethered BlackBerry Storm connection that I had been using with my MacBook Air.

Connection speeds were better than my HP laptop's internal 3G modem
Connection speeds were better than my HP laptop's internal 3G modem

Since I've only had the MiFi for less than a week, I can't comment authoritatively on battery life. Here's what Verizon says: "Use the lithium-ion battery for up to four hours on the road or 40 hours of standby time." (I will update later after I've spent more time pushing the battery-life envelope.)

And range? The range seems fine, considering its size. As I write this, I'm in a room about 25 feet from the router. Though I definitely notice some degradation in speed, it's not intolerable. (The Wi-FI G range is rated at 30 feet.)

But here's the real beauty of the MiFi (to me, at least). Because it's a Wi-Fi router, it can be used interchangeably with all your laptops. You're not wedded to one laptop, as you are with a built-in 3G modem. And you don't have to shuttle a USB stick modem from laptop to laptop.

(Note:: I have tested it on two MacBooks and an HP Vista-based laptop--all connected simultaneously.)

Alas, nothing's perfect. In setting up the MiFi, I initially tried to mount it on the MacBook Air. No go. (Another MiFi review cited the same problem.) Just to make sure it wasn't a problem with my MacBook Air, I tried it to mount it on another Air. No go again. This appears to be a glitch. That said, it was a snap to mount and set up on my Windows Vista-based HP laptop. And you only need to do this wired (USB) setup procedure once. After that, it's a wireless wonder.

Another minor quibble was the battery cover on the back. It was hard to remove. As it turned out, the seam around the cover hadn't been properly separated from the body's plastic. Luckily, I got it off without damaging the structural integrity of the router.

Oh yeah, price. This may be the biggest downside for many potential buyers (though it's comparable to other 3G plans). It's $60 a month with a 5GB limit (and $40 for a somewhat unrealistic 250MB plan). That adds up over 12 months, especially if you're already paying for unlimited DSL at lower rates. (I did save some money up front: the guy at the Verizon store I frequent in Southern California waived my $150 cancellation fee for the internal Verizon modem inside my HP laptop.)

That said, for frequent travelers or for people who need the unrestricted mobility of 3G, this falls into the must-have category.