When XCom Global got in touch and asked me if I wanted to take their mobile hotspot for a spin, naturally I leapt at the chance. After all, the promise of a device that lets you connect to the internet from wherever you happen to be sounds rather splendid. I didn’t really think it through in terms of a review, which maybe I should have done.
You see, little plastic boxes are a bit difficult to get excited about, let alone review. If you’re old enough to remember modems, then you can sort of imagine my predicament. Little black boxes tend to be uninteresting. You can imagine the picture: the little black box is little, and black. Short on conversation, matches my cocktail dress perfectly.
The other thing is that this blog quite likes to illustrate itself with photography, lavishly wallpapering itself with distracting imagery so you don’t have to spend too much time on the words if you don’t want to. And that might not work with pictures of a small black box.
The purpose of the black box however, that of connecting you to the internet from wherever you are, is very easy to get excited about.
At this point in time, early 2013, the state of the internet can be easily summarised as being powered by a collection of cats and a former Star Trek cast member’s musings. I think there is some other stuff, too. So I can review the purpose of the box, provide you with thoughts on how well it fulfils its function, distract you with pictures of cats if it all becomes too much, and everyone will be happy.
Let’s do this.
What is the Xcom Global Hotspot?
XCom Global is a company that rents out MiFis. These are portable wireless hotspots – they connect to the internet over a cellular network, like a smartphone does. Once connected, a local wireless network is set up to which you can connect up to five of your own devices.
This is all done very easily – you just turn on the MiFi, wait for the lights to come on, and then connect from your wireless device. Easy!
What is it good for
Ease of use – The MiFi could not be easier to use. You just turn it on, wait for the lights to settle from a blinking pattern (establishing a connection) to a solid colour (connection established), and then you are all ready to connect. The light will change colour depending on the speed of the connection, with green meaning it’s a bit slow and purple meaning it’s rocketing along.
Hassle free – If you’re travelling between a number of countries or have a locked smartphone, then this device is for you. It just works. You don’t have to mess around with trying to find a SIM card with a data plan and deciphering the instructions in a foreign language to activate that plan. You don’t need to worry about roaming fees from your provider. In fact, you don’t need to worry about anything. Let the MiFi worry about it for you.
Secure – An alternative to the MiFi is of course a standard wireless hotspot, the kind you might find in any one of many coffee shops around the world. The problem with these is that they are usually unsecured, which means that anyone with less than noble intentions logged onto the same network could eavesdrop on your connection and potentially glean sensitive information. This isn’t a problem with the MiFi – it just works. It’s also, in popular locations, going to be a darn sight faster than a crowded hotspot. Even if the other does come with a burger.
Saving the planet – I know, saving the planet might not seem like a totally obvious benefit, but bear with me here. Instead of purchasing multiple throw away SIM cards and associated packaging, which will be discarded at the end of the trip, you can just use the MiFi, which you return to XCom after use for another happy traveller to go adventuring with. Easy and eco-friendly. What more could you want?
Great battery life – The MiFi lasted around four hours in use, and XCom supplies a spare battery as standard, so you’ve got eight hours of use before you need to find a plug. That was more than enough for all our use, and as it charges over USB, it was easy to charge it from our laptops when we wanted to top it up. In our 22 day trip, we never encountered a situation where we couldn’t get online due to lacking battery power.
Portable – The device is very compact, as the below picture demonstrates, with it sitting between an AA battery and a Galaxy S3 smartphone. It slips easily into a pocket and comes in a pouch with all kinds of add-ons, such as various plug adaptors for charging. However, as it charges over usb you probably already have something that it can share a charger with, meaning you can leave the pouch and other gubbins behind.
The cost – Convenience comes at a price. The XCom Global with the Europe travel plan comes in at $14.99 per day, which includes return shipping in the US. This isn’t particularly cheap, especially compared to picking up SIM cards as you go, although the convenience can’t be beaten. We visited seven countries in 22 days, and figuring out which SIM card to buy for each country would have been a time consuming and complicated effort. If you must and want to be online anywhere you are, then this is a price I am sure you will be willing to pay.
Fair Use Policy – There are very few countries with unlimited mobile data options, so the MiFi does come with a fair use policy, which only applies in some countries (although which countries these are was not made obvious). The policy restricts you to 400MB of usage over three days, which should be more than enough for anything but very intense photo or video uploading – popping shots up on Instagram or Facebook would be fine.
Relies on cellular networks – The idea of having an always on internet connection does appeal, but this is the real world and there are limitations. As the MiFi connects over the cellular networks, it will only work where there is a cellular network. It did very well pretty much everywhere we went, including on multiple train rides across Europe, so this isn’t so much of a problem, but if you are likely to be heading to very remote areas with limited cell coverage you should confirm with XCom before you go if it is likely to work effectively.
And we got to the end without needing too many cat pictures! Well done. Now then, the important question – is this for you?
Obviously, it depends on a few factors, one of which is clearly budget. If you’re not desperate to be online everywhere you are, and are on a tight travelling budget, then no, this likely isn’t for you.
If the cost is within your budget though, and being online is a necessity, then I can very much recommend the XCom Global MiFi offerings. It’s fast, easy to set up, and does everything it says it will. Perfect for the internet hungry traveller.