As with last year’s Google IO, Google sent us home with several cool gifts this year. All attendees received the Limited Edition Galaxy Tab 10.1 and a Verizon LTE MiFi, as well as the promise of a Samsung Chromebook when they are released in June.
Unlike last year, several goodies were given to the attendees of specific sessions, e.g. those who went to the session on the Android ADK received the hardware kit to get started, those who attended the Android gaming session got a Sony Experia Play, etc.
These freebies weren’t announced in advance, a smart move by Google to make sure the audiences of these sessions were limited to interested developers.
Anyway, probably the most underrated gift was the Verizon LTE Mifi.
The reason why we got one is clear–connectivity. The Galaxy Tab and Chromebook each rely on wifi for connectivity, so providing the MiFi and three months of free service, completed the package. Sweet deal.
Initially, I wasn’t too excited about the little gadget. After all, it’s yet another piece of technology to cart around with me, and I’ve been happily tethering to my HTC EVO, last year’s big gift, for the last year.
However, since the conference ended, the MiFi has shown its value.
I decided to test it out at the airport on my way out of the Bay Area. Airport wifi is notoriously a cesspool of ads, spotty and slow coverage and sidejackers. Remember Firesheep? Usually, I’d fire up my EVO for tethering rather than take the performance hit of running VPN on a public wifi, but this always drains the phone’s battery, which isn’t too great anyway.
Using the MiFi meant I didn’t need to find a plug to keep the EVO charged, so that was an immediate win.
Verizon turned on LTE in the Bay Area a while back, so I also got a chance to test out its speeds.
I tested the download speed at around 7 mbps, upload around 2 mbps. So yeah, it’s fast.
When I got home to Portland, I lost the LTE coverage, unfortunately, but I figured I’d test it out on 3G when I took my car in for an oil change.
Even though I had to carry another gadget, the MiFi’s form factor makes it easy to carry. It’s about two-thirds the length of my EVO and light, easy to carry in a pocket, and the sacrifice was worth it.
3G speeds are similar to Sprint’s, and again, no battery drain on the EVO. Plus, it allows me to work around the CDMA simultaneous voice and data limitation, which is nice.
I’m not sure how long the battery life is, but I’m guessing it’s pretty good, considering that even after running for an hour or so, it wasn’t very hot. Not exactly scientific, but the EVO gets pretty hot while it’s tethering.
Another great use for the little guy is at conferences, where the wifi inevitably grinds to a halt or falls over as people connect their phones, tablets and laptops. This used to be a problem limited to geeky conferences like Apple’s events, Google IO, and SXSW but now, it’s much more common.
Having organized a technical conference in the past, I can tell you from experience that wifi is very expensive, and you find yourself paying out the nose for the biggest pipe the venue can offer.
Even then, it’s never fast enough, and you’re bound to find complaining on the floor and on Twitter about how bad your conference’s wifi sucks. This is usually a problem with the venue’s infrastructure that you can’t work around without additional expense.
Case in point, at IO, everyone commented at how bad the wifi was. Matt (@topperge) and I estimated that the average number of connections per capita at IO was probably over three after people collected their Galaxy Tabs. It’s not enough to assume people will be kind and disconnect when they’re done using the wifi, so every device they’re packing stays connected, polling the network for updates and dragging down its performance.
So, the next time I head to a conference, I’ll definitely be packing the MiFi to ensure I can stay connected.
The MiFi also offers an attractive option for home use, if you have only a few connected devices and a small space. Rather than pony up for a wireless router, you could just use a MiFi, which can be taken with you everywhere you go. Assuming you have LTE coverage in your city, natch.
Anyway, I really like this gadget. It’s very portable, easy to use and screaming fast on LTE. If Portland ever gets LTE (come on Verizon), I’d definitely consider renewing once the free months end. I hope they have a month-to-month option.