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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Best Party Trick Ever: Multi-Device Wireless Broadband from Sprint MiFi

Written by Jolie O'Dell

It's the length and width of a credit card. It's the thickness of a couple nickels. It'll let you and a few friends get an Internet connection just about anywhere with no wires whatsoever.

It's a MiFi, Sprint's new wireless broadband device, and it's geek gadget magic that'll realistically fit in your wallet. Disclosure! Sprint gave us a MiFi device to test. We tested it for a couple weeks and sent it back. We were sad to see it go.

We first tested the device with three laptops at a Facebook Vanity URL-Grabbing party. The host's WiFi connection was getting bogged down with traffic from about 20 other devices, so three of us picked a spot and huddled around the warmth of our own connection.

Sweetly simple and functional, the device easily accommodated the three users' surfing around. Multimedia uploads were as zippy as on a normal connection during the time we were test-driving the device.

Another test involved a crowded WiFi situation at a local coffee shop. Two laptops were connected to the device with the same lightning-fast results.

We even had time to literally road-test the MiFi; there's still something man-on-the-moon-ish about accessing the Internet from a moving car. We built a website during the course of a two-hour mini-road trip.

The battery held a charge for a good couple hours between charging, and the connection worked at ranges of 10-20 feet. We did notice a bit of trouble when using the device for long periods of time with just one device; every now and then, the card seemed to overheat and would drop the connection. A rest and reboot period solved the problem, but it would've been painful/disastrous had we not had access to a backup WiFi network in the meantime.

Still, the device is pretty amazing. We highly recommend seeing it in action:

Slight correction: The Sprint website states the device can support up to five devices.

Now, as previously disclosed, we received the free-as-in-beer, no-strings-attached version of the MiFi. We were not required to go through the new account/line activation process, any rebate loopholes, contract renegotiations, or other factors that make mobile services companies so uniquely pleasant (and by "pleasant," we mean "exquisitely tortuous in the BDSM sense"). The MiFi is advertised now at $99.99 per device, based on several conditions that seemed to require scientific calculators and gave us headaches. We recommend calling Sprint if you're interested in the device and finding out exactly how much the price would be for you. We're also aware of a similar Verizon device but have not yet been exposed to it, ourselves.