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By Thomas McKinnon 27 October 2009

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The MiFi 2352 is one of the smartest gadgets we’ve seen all year. It’s a battery operated, wireless router with an HSPA modem. What this means is that it’s a portable, personal hotspot that can support access to the internet via 3G connectivity for up to five devices, connected to it via Wi-Fi.

While the fact that it’s battery powered, providing up to 4 hours of use, means it’s portable, its size makes it ultra-portable with dimensions of 62mm x 98mm x 15.3 mm and weighing just 81 g. This rather small form hasn’t compromised its build quality however, as it’s a fairly hardy device.

Use

Using the MiFi is straightforward. To set it up you simply insert a SIM card, insert the battery and power it up. Once it’s up and running you can access the device’s locally-hosted homepage which displays the number of connected clients, connection details and battery status of the device.

The MiFi 2352\'s settings are rather similar to a conventional router’s. You can change its SSID settings, manage port filtering, port forwarding and mac address filtering and use WEP, WPA or WPA2 to prevent unauthorised connections to your network. It also has the abilitiy to create and save up to six internet profiles for different SIM cards on the device, which makes switching between SIM cards less of a hassle. Physically replacing SIM cards is a drag though, as you can’t hotswop them.

Applications

The MiFi’s size and connectivity options open up the number of applications for which it can be used. While it’s quite obviously useful as a portable hotspot, it’s just as useful for students in communes or for people renting, as it saves you the trouble of installing landlines, while allowing for multiple devices to be simultaneously connected. 

The MiFi can also be used as a USB modem in case your PC doesn\'t have Wi-Fi, much the same way you would use a 3G dongle. The trouble with is that it disables the WiFi, so only a single user can then connect the internet.

With AGPS built-in, the MiFi 2352 is practical if you make use of location based services. You can pinpoint your location on services such as Google Maps or Twitter. This is especially useful for mobile users with devices like netbooks or thin-and-light notebooks that generally don’t include such features.

With a microSD slot, that can support up to 16 GB of memory, the device can also be used as a portable NAS (network attached storage). Functionality on this front is, however, limited to uploading individual files, opening them and deleting them. The ability to hotswop microSD cards is useful though, as carrying multiple cards around is more convenient than carrying around an external hard drive. 

Performance

While the device’s claimed range is just 10 m, we found that we received Wi-Fi coverage for as much as 30 m. Wi-Fi access speed on the device is rather impressive as well, with it capable of 7.2 Mbps download speeds. We also found the wireless signal provided to be fairly stable.

The one pet peeve we had was the lack of decent indicators. The power button changes to every colour of the rainbow which we presumed meant that it was in different modes, but we were clueless as to what meant what exactly. Red, amber, blue, green and violet all made appearances representing an error, battery low, UMTS connection, EDGE connection, and HSPA connection respectively.  Without referring to the manual we were lost however, as it’s an awful lot to remember.

Beyond this we were surprised at just how easy to setup the device was and at the scope of applications it can be used for. We were also surprised at its price, R2000, which does feel like quite a lot to cough up, even with all its great features. It is available from Altech Autopage Cellular outlets.

PROS
Portable, up to 4 hours battery life, AGPS built in.
CONS
Using it as a wired modem disables the WiFi and it is pricey.
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