MiFi, Overdrive and 32GB Wifi iPad - a review

Discussion in 'iPad' started by kodos, May 1, 2010.

  1. kodos macrumors 6502

    May 1, 2010
    So I purchased a 32GB Wifi iPad on launch day. I was in love with it, but found myself using it sometimes where it would be super handy to have a 3G connection. Two situations came up immediately. The first was in church; it would be helpful to have a network connection so that I'd have access to my entire Logos library instead of just offline books. The second was when I was in the car. Using the iPad in the car was perfect for my wife. So much easier than the iPhone!

    I started to weigh the possibility that I'd sell the WiFi model and get a 3G iPad when those came out. But I was enjoying it so much, that I decided I'd get a mobile hotspot instead. There were a couple of reason for this. One was that during road trips it would be helpful so that the kids can have their devices plugged into Wifi instead of just the iPad. The second is that knowing AT&T I knew that there would be restrictions placed on the 3G traffic in conjunction with certain apps (and unsurprisingly there are!).

    Sprint's Overdrive

    First, I tried out Sprint's Overdrive - 4G / 3G hotspot. I first wanted to try out Sprint's hotspot because 4G transfer rates were supposed to be really good and I was right on the edge of their coverage. 4MB/sec was more appealing than 1.5MB/sec. Also, 4G traffic was unlimited, whereas 3G traffic was limited to 5GB/month (same as Verizon's MiFi). That was very appealing to me.

    Also the Overdrive unit has a built in LCD screen. It displays connectivity information, 4G/3G status, number of users connected, amount of data transferred during the current session (up and down) and optionally the SSID of the Hotspot and even the password required to connect to it.

    Also, Sprint has a 30-day money back guarantee on their products, so it made the most sense to try out first.

    So I picked it up from BestBuy, and after signing my life away for the next two years -- I walked away with a fully functioning Hotspot. The BestBuy was in the middle of 4G coverage, and I played around with it with my iPhone (left my iPad at home). Got about 1.5Mbps/sec down. Hmm. Not spectacular, but decent.

    Immediately I noticed a few things about it.

    1. It got incredibly hot. I had it in my pocket, and it started to get uncomfortably hot after a few minutes of usage.
    2. It was a little too bulky for my pocket. It was a little uncomfortable having it, and my iPhone in the same pocket. It's square shaped and a little awkward compared to the MiFi unit.
    3. It's flaky. I couldn't even turn the unit off half the time. It would be stuck in the Powering Off screen. I often had to take the batteries out in order to shut it down.
    4. The unit was very slow in switching between 3G and 4G coverage (often took 30 seconds to a minute). And the worst thing is that your Internet connection would cut off. This didn't bode well for road trips and streaming video!

    I got it home and noticed that I dropped out of 4G and even worse I was in 3G with 2 bars showing. That was bad since my iPhone had full signal strength at my house. That was inexcusable. I did a speed test and got a whopping 32kb/sec. Not good! My iPhone would get 655kb/sec via AT&T 3G! I tried it tethered to my laptop, and same result. It was really really slow. I had a hunch that it was running on some sort of 2G network -- since the unit will still show 3G when running on 2G. Not happy.

    To top things off, I then noticed that my iPad would drop its connection after a few minutes of usage. Browsing online I saw that people were solving this problem by changing the security on the Overdrive from WEP to WPA. And sure enough, that solved the dropped connection. I'm not sure if this is Apple's fault or Sierra Wireless (they manufacture the Overdrive). But I didn't care as long as it worked. The unit came with the latest firmware, so I was a little disheartened by the various problems, including the inability to reliably power down!

    I had a business trip to Redmond, WA (you can guess to who!) -- and took the Overdrive with my iPad. Let me tell you, when there's a great 4G signal -- this thing is incredible. I was getting a full 4Mb/sec down, and web pages were loading very quickly. Was able to do streaming video, etc. Was phenomenal. Battery life is fairly poor in the unit (my guess is 2.5 hours of continuous use) and the device gets very hot. Leaving it plugged into the wall however, eases both of those concerns.

    I live in Dallas, and some parts of town it would scream and get the aforementioned 4Mb/sec. Some places would barely get 100kb/sec. And mind you -- this was probably less than a quarter mile apart! Very inconsistent performance, but this is par for the course with Sprint's network. If you live in an area with solid Sprint coverage this may be the device for you, warts and all.

    We took it recently on a road trip to Austin, TX from Dallas, TX -- and it performed decently for casual web browsing -- but not consistent enough for say Netflix streaming. Some annoying hiccups, but the unit ran fairly well and never completely lost a signal. We left it plugged into the car's cigarette lighter for the entire trip and it ran smoothly.

    The unit also has GPS built in, it worked well from the web interface -- it would be killer if there was a way to interface this to the WiFi iPad as it would fix the other deficiency in this model.

    Verizon's MiFi 2200
    Well, the Overdrive went back with 10 days left in the evaluation period. It simply had terrible coverage in my neck of the woods -- and at Church it would barely register 1 bar. I then looked at Verizon's coverage map and was blown away. Well, time to check out the MiFi! The MiFi only has coverage for 3G (there is no 4G Verizon network) and has a monthly data cap of 5GB (with 5cents a MB over). It's not great, but I mostly use it on the weekends and don't expect to hit the limit (I think I ended up with around 1GB of usage on the Overdrive -- of course were it faster, I probably would have consumed more content than that!). The 3G iPad of course is unlimited. So keep that in mind.

    I returned the Overdrive to BestBuy (and spent about 15 minutes on the phone with Sprint while they tried to retain me). I picked up the MiFi -- and thought that Verizon's signup process was much faster than Sprint's. Left the store and tried to use the MiFi in the car with my iPhone. No luck. Evidently the unit has to be activated (sigh) connected to a computer. Drats. Sprint got this part right.

    Okay, took it home and then the troubles began. The thing refused to activate!! I tried it both on my Macbook Pro and my Windows Vista machine! On both machines the primitive looking Verizon software (VZAccess Manager) gave some obscure Activation Error. Spending 50 minutes on the phone with Verizon had me download a very specific version of the software for Vista (why is the wrong version of the software bundled with the unit???) and that finally allowed me to activate the device. This part was incredibly frustrating however and almost made me want to return the device right then and there. No excuse for this IMHO.

    Verizon was showing almost full signal strength! Woohoo! I did a speed test and got 755Kb/sec. Not bad. Better than AT&T at least!

    Some notes on the unit itself. It is skinnier and thinner than the Overdrive, but longer. I like it -- it's shaped more like a phone and fits in your pocket easier. Dislikes: It doesn't have a status LCD to even show you how strong your signal strength is! In order to look up that information, you have to use the Web interface or the VZAccess software on your PC/Mac.

    The unit is much cooler to the touch, and I estimate about 4 hours of battery life is about right. I haven't had the chance to play around with it a whole lot, but I really like what I see. Low latency connection that feels like low end DSL. The iPad really takes a shine to it as well. No dropped signals like with the Overdrive.

    Also, unlike the 3G iPad, it is considered a WiFi device so there are no app restrictions! You have full access to the ABC App and no degradation on the Netflix app (other than bandwidth induced differences).

    It also comes with a little carrying pouch so that it won't get scratched in your pocket. The Unit is a little hot to the touch when its running full bore, but not uncomfortably so. It really does need to have a status LCD as there are only two lights on it -- the power light, and a data xfer light.

    I'm pretty happy with the unit so far and Verizon's coverage is rock solid in comparison to Sprint's. It also powers up without a hiccup.

    I also like the idea that when the next-generation of cellular data comes out (WiMax, 4G, etc.) I'll just have to change my hotspot and not end up with an outdated 3G connection stuck to my iPad.

    Would I like a 3G iPad?
    Of course! I really don't like the 2 year contract, and the 5GB/month limit on 3G with my MiFi. I also don't like that I have to remember to charge and carry another device -- a device BTW that doesn't have the same battery life as my iPad! In practice, it's not a big deal -- most times when I have to use it for long periods of time, I have access to a wall power point, or my car charger. If you are just using data on your iPad then the 3G model makes a lot of sense. Ala Carte data plan? If you are just going on vacation, and need it for camping - it makes a ton of sense. $30 here or there instead of $60/month for 24 months!

    But if you need to connect up to 5 devices simultaneously (let's say kids' DS's, cameras, laptops, iPads, iPods, etc.) then the MiFi can make a lot of sense for you. If you have great access to Sprint coverage wherever you travel, then the Overdrive could be a killer little device. It just needs a lot of work, and let's hope that the Firmware update cycle is aggressive. There's no excuse for the device not being able to power down 100% reliably!

    I am very happy with my MiFi. If you can afford the $60/month I really urge those of you with WiFi iPads to check them out! And if you are doing life near Sprint coverage, check out the Overdrive -- you won't regret 4Mb/sec downloads!!!! Far better than the 3G iPad :)
  2. ClaireL macrumors 6502a


    Apr 4, 2010
    New Jersey
    Thanks for this very informative detailed review Sir/Ma'am! Very helpful :)
  3. kodos thread starter macrumors 6502

    May 1, 2010
    Thanks Claire! I didn't have too many good reviews to go off of when I started this process, so I hope this helps others out with WiFi iPads. I love my iPad, best tech purchase I've made in a while. And I guess I'm a "sir", though I've never been addressed as such :D
  4. biosci macrumors 6502a

    Apr 16, 2010
    Chicagoland, IL
    What would be awesome is have your travel partners divy up and split the bill for the month!! (not your own kids though... haha unless they are hard working teens!)
  5. Alchematron macrumors 65816


    Jan 22, 2007
    Maui Hawaii
    Nice review thanx

    Other connection options


    3G/4G Clear Spot

    $40.00/month no contract

    Sprint = Reseller of Clear network

    HTC EVO 4G Phone mobile hotspot in June

    HyperMac external battery to power router extended periods

  6. random person macrumors 6502a

    Feb 28, 2008
    kodos, this is exactly the kind of information I was looking for! Thank you so much!

    I'm sure I could find this info somewhere but since you are so knowledgeable, can you tell me how the speed of the Verizon mifi compares with the ATT 3G network? You said it was faster -- but how much faster?

    I am in the same quandary -- bought my 64 gig wifi because I couldn't wait for 3G and now don't really want to give it away only to spend another $830 -- I have the money but it does seem wasteful. Makes me think I should wait for the next gen to come out. So the mifi looks appealing as an option but it is not particularly cost effective either! Hence my quandary!

    Oh and thanks for giving the skinny on the Overdrive too!
  7. erillanos macrumors member

    Apr 2, 2010
    The thing I wanted to try out was Clear since they have it in my town and
    it is only 10 dollars more then what you pay on 3G unlimited iPad.

    I am planning to stop by one of the stores to see how fast of a connection it gets.
  8. jaeguyoon macrumors regular

    Apr 20, 2010

    Just for info, this is overdrive 4g 60% signal strength in Rockville md, we aren't even in the sprints coverage city list but I'm assuming they have started on it or Im getting signal from d.c, either way I love it! I agree about how hot it gets, it gets really hot.
  9. barefeats macrumors 65816


    Jul 6, 2000
    Did you download the latest firmware from the Overdrive's "Sierra Wireless TRU-Update Server"? I was having various problems initially and didn't try to update the firmware because the advanced settings said "no update available." Out of frustration, I clicked on "check for updates now" and, behold, there was an update. Since I installed it, no problems.

    Unlike you, I have a good signal at home and a great signal in most other places in our town. The only place that was weak was in our church auditorium. But I found by sitting near the back door, I got a fair signal (two bars). Just call me a "back seat believer."

    The other thing I like about the Overdrive is the built-in GPS which I can access via Safari by entering the Overdrive's IP address. I click on "Map me" and it shows my location including latitude and longitude on Google Maps. It also give my elevation. Nice to have since the iPad WiFI has no GPS.

    My experience with the MiFi was not good. It was running slow even with a good signal -- 600Kbps versus the Overdrive's 5000Kbps when used with the iPad.
  10. kodos thread starter macrumors 6502

    May 1, 2010
    I think it will depend on what the service looks like in your area, the time of day,etc. But I am currently getting 100kb/sec more with Verizon as opposed to AT&T. I'll do more detailed testing next week and try to report what I find. Most people I know are getting anywhere from that to 800kb/sec faster throughput with Verizon. Probably because all of the bandwidth hogging iPhones are on AT&T! :)
  11. jaeguyoon macrumors regular

    Apr 20, 2010
    Yes I did the sa,e thing and clicked update and was surprised when there was one!!
  12. kodos thread starter macrumors 6502

    May 1, 2010
    LOL @ backseat believer :). I did have the latest firmware, i even downloaded the latest from Sierra's website. Like I said, when I was someplace where I had a 4G signal, it was great! Unfortunately I don't often have a 4G signal where I live....

    That is awesome! I wish Sprint would get working on their coverage issues! Because that's amazing....
  13. srl7741 macrumors 68020


    Jan 19, 2008
    In my world
    Your post could not have came at a better time. Tomorrow I'm on the hunt and will be looking at both. You have giving me a little head start.

    Great post thanks.
  14. Alchematron macrumors 65816


    Jan 22, 2007
    Maui Hawaii

    Does the router get hot when plugged into the wall?

    Or get hot when plugged into an external battery like the HyperMac?

  15. kodos thread starter macrumors 6502

    May 1, 2010
    They only get hot when running off their internal batteries ... When they've been plugged in, they've stayed cool....
  16. stisdal macrumors 6502


    Feb 28, 2010
    The solution for me was Verizons MiFi. I travel all over the country for work so the coverage was the #1 priority. Plus I can get on the laptop when needed. So far (3 weeks) it has been great.
  17. iserian macrumors 6502

    Apr 30, 2010
    Palo Alto Apple Store
    Fyi - Verizon mifi is unlimited on a business account.

    I routinely get 5 plus hours on my mifi's - if you need more just get an extra battery.

    Sprint coverage across the USA was a non starter.

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