Much like Cloud computing and the latest smartphones, one of the products most evangelised by techies to mainstream users is mobile Wi-Fi. These small devices allow multiple products to connect to their mobile internet connection, removing the need for numerous network contracts and saving hard earned cash. Yes we would always welcome even cheaper tariffs, but interestingly Three seems to think the mobile WiFi units themselves needs a cut price option.
Consequently we now have the 3 Value MiFi - which is at its core a Huawei E5331 mobile Wi-Fi device. Like its more expensive sibling, the excellent Three Premium MiFi, it provides HSPA 21.1Mbit compatibility, connects up to five devices simultaneously and has 30 minutes less battery life at 4.5 hours. More radically, the 3 Value MiFi does away with the Premium's detailed three line OLED display in favour of five simple LED icons, but aims to make up for this by costing 40 per cent less at just £50.
So does the argument make sense? Out of the box we're not convinced. Despite being the more fully featured device the Premium MiFi has a smaller footprint (95.5 x 49mm versus 92.8 x 60mm) while being only fractionally thicker (49mm versus 60mm) and at 80g is five grams lighter. We also have issues with the Value MiFi's build quality. The white finish is more prone to marks and there is a rough join between the device and its removable rear cover that feels cheap.
In terms of connectivity the 3 Value MiFi is a victim of cut backs since it loses the Premium MiFi's 32GB compatible microSD slot - which allows that model to function as memory key when plugged into a computer. Meanwhile the move to a basic icon display (network strength, Wi-Fi signal, battery and new mail) omits key information which could prove costly long term such as a roaming indicator and the amount of data you have downloaded. Furthermore each icon's colour system of green or orange to signal strong or weak gives the user a somewhat binary level of information compared to the Premium MiFi's strength bars.
There is another frustrating complication too. Whereas the Premium MiFi has a dedicated security button which displays its SSID and WiFi key, the Value MiFi has just a power button so obtaining this information means removing the rear cover and the battery and making a note of the information elsewhere.
This all sounds like a lot of negatives, but in truth the Value MiFi is far from a poor product. Setup is simple, just insert the sim card and switch it on. It connects to the Internet automatically and you can then add devices and get going. For those who prefer to dig a little deeper enter the device's IP address (192.168.1.1) in a browser and the web interface will show detailed signal strength, data usage and connected devices. You can also access network sent SMS, check for firmware updates and change the SSID, password and authentication type (WPA, WPA2 and AES TKIP encryption are all supported).