Three Mi-Fi Mobile Wi-Fi (Huawei E585)

Three has updated the modem it uses for its Mobile Wi-Fi (or Mi-Fi as some people call it) service to the Huawei E585 model, the older one being the 3 Mi-Fi Mobile Wi-Fi (Huawei E5830). Confused? You shouldn't be, but is it just a number change or is there a reason to ask for an upgrade? 

If you were to quickly glance at the two side-by-side you would struggle to see the difference when turned off. They are both the same pebble size, both feature a display at the top and a big "3" logo at the bottom and both offer microSD card support, allowing you to expand your storage options. So what actually is the difference?

Well the newer E585 now features a far more useful OLED display, detailing a number of key bits of information that help you understand what the hell is going on. It's as if the company had heard us.

We say that, because that was our biggest complaint with the E5830: it was hard to really understand what was actually going, as the multi-coloured lights present in the older model didn't really tell you much. Gone are the confusing buttons on the right-hand side of the unit, and in its stead is one single power switch that lets you turn it on and off.

Also added, is a new monochrome OLED display that gives you signal strength, an indicator as to whether not you are connected to 3G or HSDPA, the amount of devices you have connected to the hub, battery level, which network you are on - although before you get excited it's locked to 3 - and most importantly for those that are worried about data usage; how much data and time you've spent/used in that session.

The good news though, is that the screen actually tells you what is happening rather than just a series of coloured icons. If you've got no network connection it will tell you. If your signal is super strong you get a message letting you know that too. It's just so much easier than before.

But it isn't just the hardware that has changed. Getting online is considerably easier too. Turn it on, select the wireless network you've created, punch in the password and away you go. No extra buttons to press or hoops to jump through.

If that wasn't enough to impress, mobile operator 3 has created a hub which is now available for Windows, Mac and Linux users; meaning the dongle can be used to access the Internet without having to install any software.

Type in 3.home and you get whisked away to a panel that shows you information like data usage, text messages, your account details, and for some reason shortcuts to your favourite sites like Twitter and Facebook. You also get a second graphical display of battery life and connectivity info.

It's also through here that you get access to your microSD memory card, if you have one installed in the device, and through the system you can share files with any of the other four users (five can use the device at once) on the network.

That's handy if you aren't already signed up to services like Dropbox, for example. And yes, you can view those files on devices like the Apple iPad, although uploading and downloading is not possible.

Running the unit in the field is incredibly easy. In fact there are just two things that could set you back: network coverage and battery power.

Network coverage is easy to explain - if you don't live or work in a good Three coverage area then this isn't going to work - it is as simple as that. As we've said, the device has been locked to Three, so if you wanted to switch to another operator then you're stuck unless you want to get into the murky world of updating the firmware.

The second is battery life. On and connected you'll get around 4 to 5 hours on a single charge, although this will vary depending on how hard the unit has to work to get a connection.

PC and Mac users get a USB cable in the box that will let you charge and surf at the same time. But that feature isn't available for the iPad or iPod touch users obviously. It's not the end of the world, but it's something you should bear in mind, however what it does mean is that you can connect multiple devices and not worry about a direct USB connection.

Verdict

We loved the original Mi-Fi, but were frustrated by the lack of information available to us. Here Three, with the help of Huawei, has answered those questions in spades. You get connection details, battery status, how many devices are connected and even how much data you've used.

The only option it is missing is a continuous monthly total, so you could see how much data you are using over a set time-frame, rather than just the session. You can see it within a sub menu on the 3.home site, but not on the dongle.

That combined with a decent pricing structure, £49.99 as a pay as you go option, or £39.99 and £15 a month for 5GB data a month makes this very affordable.

If you've yet to jump on the dongle bandwagon and you are looking to do so, as long as you've got good 3 coverage in your area, this is definitely worth a punt.