- Fast HSPA+ (21.1Mbit) compatibility
- Good battery life
- Low upfront cost
- No screen
- Questionable build quality
- No quick way to check data usage
- Review Price: £50.00
- HSPA+ 21.1Mbit compatible
- LED icon display
- Connects up to five devices
- 4.5 hour battery life
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).
As for performance the 3 Value MiFi is no slouch either. As always when testing mobile Wi-Fis it is worth remembering doing so in real life is no firm science. Network congestion will vary from area to area, day to day and even minute to minute while every network has different coverage blackspots. Needless to say always use a carrier’s coverage checker to see the strength in your home and/or office before making any purchase.
Caveats aside we had previously found 3’s Premium MiFi to be consistently the fastest mobile Wi-Fi device we had tested and the Value MiFi was equally good. In areas of strong signal we recorded a maximum speed of 7.9Mbit and averaged 4-5Mbit. This is a hefty increase over what can realistically be achieved by older HSPA 7.2Mbit mobile Wi-Fi units and given these devices are effectively large antennas they will typically outperform phones, tablets and laptops with integrated 3G dongles too.
Equally important with any mobile Wi-Fi is battery life and again the Value MiFi matches up to the competition well. With moderate usage we found it achieved Three’s quoted 4.5 hours of usage dropping to roughly four hours when used intensively. This is better than what we achieved from Vodafone’s new HSPA R205 and within touching distance of 3’s Premium MiFi. Unlike the latter though it doesn’t come with a convenient charge dock.
So what about value for money? The Value MiFi uses the same tariffs as its Premium stable mate meaning 5GB of data per month for £18.99 over 18 months or 5GB of data per month for £15.99pm. As for heavy users £18.99 per month for 24 months gets you a healthy 15GB monthly data allowance. This is far stronger than Vodafone’s 2GB of data for £15pm on an 18 month contract or 2GB on a thirty data rolling contract for £20pm.
Subsequently the big difference comes on the aforementioned pre-pay price tag: £50 for the Value MiFi compared to £85 for the Premium version. Given the long term costs of a MiFi this is a relatively trivial amount in our opinion and the absence of roaming and data use indicators on the Value MiFi could ultimately mean it costs you far more long term.
With a price tag 40 per cent cheaper than its premium alternative the 3 Value MiFi seems tempting on paper. The problem is the loss of a detailed screen for data, signal and roaming information means it could accidentally cost you far more than the £35 saving you put in your pocket. Performance is every bit as good as any MiFi we have tested though and battery life is strong. Still we can’t help but think penny pinchers will regret scrimping long term.
Score in detail
Build Quality 6