Theoretical maximums are never achieved (typically 40-50 per cent is realistic), but we did clock download speeds of up to 8Mbit and averaged over 5Mbit in areas of strong signal. This represents a sizeable step up from what can be realistically achieved by 7.2Mbit MiFis, mobile phones and laptop dongles. Of course there is a significant caveat to these figures and that is they are hugely signal dependent. Much like any network Three has a number of black spots around the country and it is vital to use the carrier's coverage checker before considering a purchase.
The Three network has come in for criticism over the years and there are certainly places where signal can be lost entirely. Frustratingly there is also no way of knowing if this has happened without checking the E586 screen as connected devices simply show a strong WiFi signal. On the flip side we were impressed with how often the 'H' (for HSPA+) popped up on the E586 display. We are based in central London, but Three has promised to keep rolling out the standard across the country and claims real life speed increases can now be found on up to 40 per cent of its network. Ultimately performance will differ widely from place to place, but the added value of HSPA+ is certainly very real indeed.
What also impresses is the portability of the E586. In physical terms the E586 only weighs 90g which makes it easy to carry in a pocket or bag, but equally important is its battery life which we found to last a little under five hours with heavy usage (and unlike dongles it isn't sucking power from your devices). Furthermore Three quotes up to 100 hours on standby which means you can throw the MiFi in a bag without a charger if you only plan on using it for short periods throughout the week.
Lastly we come to the issue of cost and thankfully Three has no unpleasant surprises waiting. As the smallest of the UK's major networks it regularly competes through price and here is no exception. Pre-pay fans can get the E586 for £84.99 along with 3GB of data that is valid for three months. A 30 day rolling contract for £15.99pm gets you 5GB per month with an upfront cost of £49.99 for the E586. For those not adverse to longer contracts the E586 is available for free on tariffs as low as £10.87pm for 18 months which provides 1GB of data per month. For heavy users £18.99 per month for 24 months gets you the E586 free and a healthy 15GB monthly data allowance. For light Internet users in areas of good signal this makes the E586 a viable alternative to a fixed broadband connection and one you can take anywhere you go.
Three has landed something of a coup with the Huawei E586 MiFi. Its HSPA+ coverage is far from universal, but where it is available the E586 enjoys speeds which are a vast improvement over standard 3G. The E586 is also stylish, light and well made with an excellent OLED screen which provides all the at-a-glance information you need. Technophobes will be happy the E586 works out the box, while technophiles will delight in the wealth of advanced settings and Three adds a cherry on the top with a variety of flexible tariffs. If you regularly carry multiple devices - or plan to - the E586 is a no brainer.