- HSPA+ Performance Notably Better Than HSDPA
- Light with decent battery life
- Affordable & flexible contracts
- HSPA+ coverage can be patchy
- Review Price: £84.99
- First HSPA+ device in the UK
- Circa 5 hour battery life
- Bundled charging dock
- Available on pre-pay, rolling and long term contracts
For those not in the know, MiFi devices are portable WiFi hotspots. They are pocket sized and battery powered, connect to a mobile network and send out a security protected WiFi signal to which you can connect all your portable devices. The downside is all your devices share a single connection. The significant upside is you pay for just one tariff leading potentially to considerable cost savings.
Now in launching the Huawei ‘E586’ MiFi, Three has become the first UK carrier to sell an HSPA+ compatible device. The HSPA+ or Evolved HSPA specification has an increased theoretical download speed of up to 21.6Mbps, while maintaining the 5.76Mbps theoretical upload speed of HSUPA. This compares very favourably to the 7.2Mbps theoretical maximum download speeds of rival MiFi products. Needless to say ‘theoretical’ has little to do with reality, but we’ll come back to this in a few paragraphs.
Speed isn’t the only feature on the agenda though, the beauty of the E586 is its simple design. Front and centre is the small, but wonderfully clear, OLED display which provides at-a-glance information to everything you need. From top left to bottom right (see image below) these are: signal strength, connection type, the number of connected devices (up to five), connection status, new messages, battery level, total data usage and roaming state (‘R’ shows if enabled). Meanwhile on the right side you have power and security buttons, the latter of which displays the SSID and password and on the left there is a 32GB compatible microSD slot which turns the E586 into an elaborate memory key if plugged into a PC. This can be done via the micro USB port on the bottom of the E586, which is also used for charging. Helpfully Three supplies not just a charging cable, but also a matching dock.
Setup is as simple or as complex as you like. Out the box the E586 only requires the sim card and battery to be inserted and you are ready to go. For more advanced users, however, they can enjoy a slew of advanced settings by connecting a device to the E586 and visiting http://3.home in a web browser (for image see page two). This includes everything from changing the SSID and password to the type of encryption (up to ‘WPA2-PSK’ as well as AES TKIP WPA encryption) plus the option to enable or disable the MiFi’s automatic connection to a network when switched on (useful abroad). The E586 can also send and receive SMS from here, a clever trick, but one unlikely to get much use in reality.
So on paper, or should we say ‘theoretically’, Three’s latest MiFi appears to be a real contender and the good news is in reality it is also excellent.
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.
Score in detail