Thursday, 4 August 2011

3 Mobile Broadband - Huawei E585 - Review

With a personal increasing demand on having Internet connection availability, i decided it was high time i invested in adequate equipment and services. I tend to always have my laptop with me for work purposes and my iPhone for just generally checking emails and looking up simple things.

However, its become an increasing requirement for the laptop itself to have connectivity as my requirements have surpassed the capability of what the iPhone can offer.

At first i tried the internet tethering option that the iPhone offers, using my current provider, O2.

However it became quickly apparent that the tariff the O2 offered was very expensive compared to what you could get at the time. The tariff i did test however was the older type when the tethering first became an option, and and if i remember correctly it was £15 for 1gb. Checking back at the time of writing, O2 now offer 500mb at £7.50… which is technically exactly the same if you were to still achieve downloading 1gb with an allotted 1 month period of time. The worst thing is, O2 forced this as an extra bolt on, instead of allowing me to use the Unlimited Data i already have on my iPhone contract…

This also worked out more expensive than opting for a dongle of some kind. Researching back them, i found that a dongle could give you 1Gig for about £10 per month, however i was interested in the convenience of using my phone and not having to carry around another gadget (with the potential of loosing it).

Worst of all was the actual connection, at the best of times it was terrible! Granted in the areas i needed it most where in very weak areas of O2 coverage, so at best could only muster a full 2G signal or a very weak 3G signal, with the constant hunting by the phone to try and achieve the 3G signal being a constant burden and repeated signal and connection drop outs. Even in a good high quality 3G signal area, the connection was very slow and flaky, and offered no real comparison to USB dongles i had experience in the past.

Inevitably i cancelled the bolt on with the means to work something else out.

 

Step up the Huawei E585 Wi-Fi Mobile Broadband Router, or as 3 (the provider) like to call it “MiFi”.

I first came across the first iteration of this device, the E5830 after seeing it reviewed on other sites with mostly positive comments, except for the ambiguous LED indicator system and convoluted start up process.

i put this idea on the back burner, especially drawn towards the fact that it operates as a stand alone router and can serve up to 5 devices. So my laptop and iPhone should be catered with mobile broadband, and any other future device, or a friend/colleague that may need quick access.

Thankfully, after speaking to various people i know and checking the online coverage maps, 3’s network is far superior in the areas that i work and live compared to O2, so signal quality and speed should be up to scratch.

I originally looked into getting the E5830, but in anticipation to get one, it has of course it has been revised with the new E585, and after a bit of research, appeared to have addressed most of the issues that were reported for the E5830, so a round of applause to Huawei and 3 for listening to their customers.

I opted for a PAYG (Pay As You Go) preloaded MiFi with a 3gb allowance that will expire in 3 months and this came in a penny short of £70 from PC World. I did consider a contract version, but would rather experiment and see how well it performs before committing myself to a 12 or 18 month contract. After all, if i wasn't happy i could just sell the device on with minimal losses, and if i do change my mind, a quick call to 3 or going into one of there stores i can obtain a new sim card.

 

First Impressions

The E585 out the box is a simple affair, all that's revealed is a small and very neat looking black and silver device, you would could be initially mistaken that its a flip phone. As all that's prominent on the device, is the OLED screen, a single on-off button, a micro USB slot and a Micro SD card slot.

Its solid, well made, no defects in the casing and plastics have an excellent quality feel. Other than the large “3” logo on the front and on the back, and the odd bits of manufacturer spiel, you wouldn't outright be able to tell that this is a mini Wi-Fi mobile broadband router. With the battery and sim card applied under the removable silver rear cover it remains as a very light item, but not so light that it feels cheap and nasty.

Bundled with the E585 are 2 USB leads, one about a meter long, the other about 150mm and a USB wall charger. Of course the long lead tends to work with the wall charger and the short lead is ideal for hooking it to your laptop. As an added bonus the E585 will also charge from your laptop AND maintain its internet connection and Wi-Fi, given sufficient powered ports, something the earlier model couldn't do. also meaning if you have a limited capacity or small laptop pouch, then you wont require the need to carry yet another wall plug and can simply carry the small USB lead.

The other great advantage is it’s battery powered, and reading various reports, this enables you 4-5 hours of connection from a full charge. I hope to do my own experiment relating to this in the near future.

Also included are the instruction manuals, your sim card and some quick start “flash cards” to help you get up and running. Sadly there is no case or pouch to keep the device clean and protected. For now I've left the screen protector on, as it will likely spend much of its time bouncing around in a pocket somewhere in my rucksack!

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First Start Up

The instructions say to allow the inevitable “long charge” when you first switch it on, with a recommended 8 hours. Personally i plugged it in during the evening and left it until the next morning.

With the battery adequately charged, holding the power button for 2 seconds prompts it to come to life. The 3 logo pops up on the OLED Screen for a few seconds and then it shows the standby screen. As per previous comments, this screen replaces the odd LED arrangement of its predecessor.

The information on the screen is clear and straight to the point. There is the provider logo in the middle, across the top there is the signal strength, the type of connection (3G or H for HDPSA), the Wi-Fi active logo which is accompanied by a subscript number showing how many devices are currently connected, a “Globe” icon to say it has internet connectivity and the battery level meter.

Across the bottom are two counters, one for time and one for data. Sadly these counters only cater for the current “session” meaning from the time it was powered up. They do not relate to your current allowance associated with the device. To check this you have to interrogate the My3 web portal, which to be honest is very easily accessed from the devices own web login.

Connecting your laptop or phone to the E585 is as simple as any other Wi-Fi router, for example if you are using Windows 7 just click the Wi-Fi monitor on the task bar and pick the routers SSID from the list, click connect and enter the password. To start with, the default SSID and Password will be provided for you on a card that you will find in the box, you can alter these to your liking through the web portal.

Connecting the E585 directly to the laptops USB prompts the on-board software installation to take place, and most likely Windows will connect to the internet and download and install the required modem drivers. Although i am not 100% sure as it isn't stated clearly anywhere, in this configuration the laptop may be using the E585 as a straight forward USB dongle? I am yet to test this properly.

Either way this all went without a hitch, and regardless of it being connected by USB or not, the laptop communicates with the E585 flawlessly and gives me an internet connection.

Same goes for my iPhone, simply going into the settings and selecting the connection from the list and punching the password in, has the phone happily connect with the usual three bar “fan” icon at the top of the screen.

 

Field Tests

Without further ado it was time to test the E585 out.

The obvious first test was to see how well it copes from my home location.

Already i know the 3 network is strong in my area, so i switched off my regular home Wi-Fi router which normally pumps out a Virgin Media 50meg connection on wireless n technology, so I'm pretty familiar with a fast wireless connection, and with the E585 went about doing “normal” web stuff, so checking a few emails, reading a blog or two and looking at Facebook etc.. with the MiFi sat next to me so i could monitor its screen.

All through my browsing session the signal meter on the MiFi’s screen remained at a full 5 bar’s, with the occasional hint that it was switching to the HDPSA network with the symbol changing from 3G to a H, regardless of this, even though it never really locked onto the HDPSA for any length of time, the signal never dropped out once, not like my iPhone used to when it was messing around trying to find a weak 3G signal instead of sticking with the full power 2G signal (yes I'm aware i can switch the 3G off, but that's an inconvenience).

With these basic things easily accomplished, i had a go with Google Earth and cleared the image cache before zooming in. Here i was expecting results but perhaps waiting a bit here and there for the images to download and materialise. Not so… while i am used to Google Earth working very quickly and scenery taking no time at all to load, the MiFi is not to be sniffed at. Fully zoomed out (so you can see the whole planet) and double clicking a “Pin” shortcut for auto zoom, as soon as the image was fully zoomed, i counted no more than 4 seconds before the full resolution image was on screen.

So far so good I'm very impressed. For generally browsing and usage the connection is excellent and websites are loading without fail and within completely acceptable loading times. Its nothing short of a regular 2meg ADSL connection in terms of general speed, with the ability to use Google Earth in a seamless fashion only contributes to this.

The only small hint of lag is when you initially open your browser, giving the MiFi enough idle time allows it to shut down its connection to the internet, by default its 300 seconds (5 minutes) but this can be altered in the web portal (see below). The Wi-Fi remains active so the indicator on the task bar is always registering being connected, but the MiFi itself “sleeps” from its connection, I'd assume for power saving. Once you have initiated your request to use the browser however, it wakes back up, and at worst I've had short wait of about 3 seconds if I've been away for a while and returned to the laptop and then getting the Google home page appearing in the browser screen. Stay connected, and its as near as possible instantaneous as per any other connection. So no real complaints there, if anything its a good thing as power saving will help stop your battery running out if you have no option to keep it juiced up.

The most i can say here, sitting indoors with the MiFi at the side of the laptop in a good 3G signal are… no performance problems at all! In fact it’s way above my expectations at this point.

One thing i do like about the MiFi, is it does work like a genuine router, so there is no messing about like a USB dongle where you would have to plug it in and maybe start some proprietary software to allow it to connect etc.. like a normal router, its just there ready and waiting. As long as your laptop or phone can see its signal they just naturally connect and get on with it.

A criticism i do have, and have noted from others, although the internet connection can power down, the actual device does not, so once it is on, it is on and will continue to run the Wi-Fi until the battery dies. OK having to switch it back on every now and then may be a minor inconvenience, but for the sake of it taking a few seconds to start up should shadow this.

Being plugged into the mains of course is not a problem, it can stay on regardless, but it would be nice if a firmware update became available that added the functionality to power down when running on battery's. Maybe even a setting giving the option for “No Shutdown” or a user selectable time limit after periods of inactivity, such as 15, 30 or 60 minutes.

The main advantage of this would be at the point the MiFi is disconnected from the mains, because if you do not manually switch it off, it will just drop onto battery power. So if you were in a bit of a rush you may forget to do so and just drop it in your bag, come back to it later and find it dead in the water!

 

Already happy with the levels of performance i saw at home, i decided to bring the MiFi along for its first day at work, essentially where it will be needed most. Again my workplace is located in quite a good area for the 3 network. However i work in a building within a building! Basically a plasterboard and RSJ constructed room within a large brick building. its also an engineering company and this particular building houses all manner of machines, some producing large magnetic fields (to the point where people with pacemakers are prohibited from approaching them). So will be interesting to see how it fairs in an area with potential interference.

Also the MiFi has been set up in a location which may not be considered optimum for its operation. Although it will spend most of the time directly connected to the mains with its wall charger, it will be located in a pocket in my rucksack, essentially to keep it safe and out the way of prying eyes! Not that i think anyone i work with is low enough to steal it if i left it on the table!

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Once again I'm getting a good 5 bar 3G signal, and again the occasional attempt to connect to the HDPSA network, but no constant and solid connection again.

And again both my laptop and iPhone have been flawlessly connected to the MiFi and giving exactly the same results and performance as the home test, not dropping the connection once! As per interference… it seriously doesn't seem to be bothered at all, excellent result!

Thankfully i had a real-world test where i needed to download a small file from my web mail.

My method was a bit crude, but basically involved monitoring the download using the IE9 download manager and doing a screen grab every time the download speed raised 5kb or so!

The final screenshot is as below, the file being 2.52mb in size downloaded in about 30seconds at a peak of around 90kb/s. For what i do on a daily basis, this is more than adequate and well above expectation!

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Next i decided to do a few experiments using Speedtest.net, the results being as follows.

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A slightly high ping, but lets be serious, this is not being used for gaming! Also a respectable download and upload speed.

Next i used the Speedtest iPhone app to do a few distance tests.

First of all i ran the test while sat at my desk with the MiFi in the bag on the floor…

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A higher ping, but still decent download speed, and an odd spike on the upload! The iPhone with this connection works without a hitch.

Next i tested at the other side of the the room i work in, which is approximately 13meters long.

The results were…

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Higher ping and decreased download which is kind of what i expected from reading other reviews.

Next i went out of the room and onto the main factory floor, in the same sort of straight line position from the previous test, this time i was approx. 20m away.

Expecting to get no signal at all the iPhone seemed to take a second or two, but then low and behold the Wi-Fi indicator showed 2 bars.

This time i got…

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A better ping, but again decreased download performance, but once again better upload! If you also notice, the Wi-Fi indicator only manages 2 bars now.

Next i went the whole hog and literally went outside of the main brick building, and doing a measurement off Google Earth, worked out i was the best part of 30m away from the MiFi, again i had to wait a second or two but again the Wi-Fi registered on the phone.

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My final test STILL showing results!

OK this isn't mind blowing download performance. but this is 30m away while the MiFi is still behind and between some quite considerable brick work.

Safari and apps like Facebook on the iPhone still worked and with acceptable response and speed. I must admit it was degraded and took longer compared to being within close proximity of the MiFi but was still adequate.

The only thing i did notice is you have to stand still, any considerable moving about and the Wi-Fi signal starts to fluctuate and eventually drop out, but still, I've had normal routers that couldn't transmit this far out!

 

The Web Portal

With the complete lack of control on the actual unit itself, all the settings for the E585 are done through a web portal.

This is simply done by opening a browser and going to http://3.home/

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The home screen mostly reflects what you get on the MiFi’s own screen. In the top right corner you have the connection and battery information. On the left hand side you get the current session usage amounts.

Links to the Micro SD, this i am yet to test, but there is basically a slot for a card on one side of the main unit, obviously for storage.

Text Messages, you can add credit to the device through My3 which enables you to send text messages.

My3 account takes you to the My3 website so you can check usage and add credit to your allowance.

And finally the “Change your settings" are through the use of a password logs you into the settings menu.

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Inside the settings menu you will find everything from Connection Status to Diagnostics which contains info like the phone number and IMEI number.

Options to view the Micro SD card (if installed) and what it contains.

Quick Settings – You will see this initiate when you first use the MiFi and just offers a quick setup system, you can basically run through it again from this point if you need to.

Advanced Settings are as per the above image.

System gives you the ability to change the password, restore default settings, reboot the MiFi and check the Version of firmware.

Sim Settings give the usual things such as setting a Pin

Mobile Network Settings are as you would expect, but being locked to 3 there's not anything you can do in here.

Connection Settings, again mostly things related to the provider, but there is the option in here to alter the time out for the idle setting when the MiFi switches off the internet connection, by default it is 300 seconds (5 minutes).

DCHP Settings, not something that concern everyone, but if you need to alter them this is obviously where you will find them!

Wi-Fi Settings, this is where you will find settings for the SSID name and the encryption including the password, there are also options for MAC filtering should you require them.

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Finally the Security page which contains all the more in depth options such as port controls etc. again, things for people who require specific control.

All-in-all quite a simple but nicely featured router setup.

 

Pricing

Even though I'm over the moon in general with the E585’s performance and capabilities the data charges are as per anything at the time, quite expensive for what you are actually getting.

Currently to top up the PAYG version on the 3 network is as follows…

  • Pay Per Day 500mb £2.99
  • Pay Per Month 1gb £10
  • Pay Per Month 3gb £15
  • Pay Per Month 7gb £25

Per Day Top Ups currently last from the point of purchase to midnight the following day. (Or whatever comes first)
Per Month Top Ups currently last from the point of purchase until 30 days later. (Or whatever comes first)

Comparing this to monthly contracts…

  • 5gb / 1 month / £39.99 modem cost / 15.99pm
    (Assuming usage for 12 months total cost = £231.87)
    (PAYG equivalent = £475*)
  • 15gb / 24 month / £0 modem cost / £18.03pm
    (Total cost over contract period = £432.72)
    (PAYG equivalent = £1510*)
  • 15gb / 18month / £0 modem cost / £23.03pm
    (Total cost over contract period  = £414.54)
    (PAYG equivalent = £1150*)
  • 1gb / 18month / £0 modem cost / £9.91pm
    (Total cost over contract period = £178.38)
    (PAYG equivalent = £220*)
  • 5gb / 18month / £0 modem cost / £18.03pm
    (Total cost over contract period = £324.54)
    (PAYG equivalent = £685*)

*PAYG equivalent costs have been calculated as, assuming the £70 3gb/3month preloaded MiFi has been purchased initially, and then dividing the allowance into the contract in question, followed by subsequent months consisting of equivalent top ups.
E.G. 5gb / 18month / £0 modem cost / £18.03pm = 1st month, £70 preload + 2x 1gb + 17 months worth of 1x 3gb and 2x 1gb top ups or 70 + 2x10 + 17x(15+10+10) = £685

From these calculations you can clearly see it is exceptionally more expensive to use a PAYG version for similar data and time periods than the available contracts.

Simply if you are going to be a frequent and heavy user and can justify the time periods, then contract is the sensible way to go without doubt.

However if you do suddenly find you are not using the MiFi as you initially intended. You will still be paying for it until the contract term expires.

The PAYG is far more suited to the casual and low usage requirement party, despite the initial costs, and if you end up not using it for a month, it essentially will not cost you anything (assuming your out of the preload) and you can reload enough data to suit you when you do indeed require it.

I do still think mobile broadband is very expensive for what it is, but in these modern times its a bit difficult to live without when a hotspot or regular LAN or wireless connection is not available. Personally i think the data costs are only worth half of what they cost regularly considering the MiFi or dongle is only the essential guts of a basic mobile phone having to worry about sending only data.

More details on tariffs can be found here >>> http://www.three.co.uk/Mobile_Broadband/MiFi

 

Conclusion

To be quite honest I'm very impressed and happy with the Huawei E585 MiFi as it has gone above and beyond my expectations and surpassed the performance I've seen from similar devices over the years. Coupled with the fact that it behaves like a genuine router and allows several devices at once to use its connection.

Pros

  • Well designed, small and lightweight
  • Excellent signal and Wi-Fi performance
  • Easy to use and easy to setup
  • Simple web portal for settings and control

Cons

  • Potentially expensive to run if you are not careful
  • No auto shut down after inactive period on battery power

 

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