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Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 Review

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 mainIt used to be that the internet connections for our computers were fed into homes, colleges and more recently coffee shops.  In today’s mobile era we want data everywhere, like parks, beaches and for funky stuff such as live-streaming outdoor weddings to family members around the world.  But there’s never a WiFi hotspot when you really need one.  Enter the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200, a 3G mobile broadband WiFi hotspot able to serve data to five devices simultaneaously.

Now you may well say, “Hold on, MiFis have been around for ages!” and you’d be right…but not at this price. The Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 asks for only $40 a month, with no contract, to feed unlimited data to your hungry devices. That, my friends, sounds like a slam dunk of a deal to me. We have one right here for review thanks to those wonderful folks at Virgin Mobile, so let’s see what it can do.

First impressions of the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 charging portThe Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 ships in similar packaging to the carrier’s cellphones, encased in a sealed clear plastic box.  It’s attractive but would benefit from some kind of tear off strip to make it easier to open.  The MiFi 2200 is viewable from the outside of the box, so its small size and shiny silver exterior are immediately visible.

Cutting open the box reveals a charger, USB cable, cloth pouch, activation guide and the MiFi 2200 itself.  While the MiFi 2200 looked tiny in the box, its silver topside gave the impression that it might be a little weighty.  The reality is quite the opposite; the MiFi 2200 is amazingly light at just 58 grams (2.05 ounces).  The silver fascia is actually colored plastic with an attractive brushed metal look, while the underside is matte black.  The power button sits on the top, while the micro-USB charging

slot and status indicator are on the side.  There is a removable battery cover on the underside, so if you’re planning a long journey away from power sources then carrying spare batteries is an option.

Setting up the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200

The MiFi 2200 needs to be charged before first use, which takes around 2.5 hours.  The power light illuminates yellow during charging and then turns green when the device is fully charged.  After that, setting up the MiFi 2200 was a simple process as the activation guide in the box is easy to follow.  After switching on the MiFi 2200, it showed up in the list of available WiFi connections in the devices I was using and from there it’s just a case of following the activation steps.

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 batteryThis is the point where you need to buy a no-contract plan to get data flowing to the MiFi 2200.  Virgin Mobile has made the choices pretty simple; it’s either $10 for 100MB or $40 for a month of unlimited data.  In my mind that translates to $10 if you have a short trip to make or occasionally need to go online when away from home for light data usage, or $40 if you’re a frequent user.  That pricing compares extremely favorably with the main carriers who typically ask for around $60 per month on a two year contract for mobile broadband.

Once the MiFi 2200 is fully activated, it’s worth setting up some security before you start using the device.  Options include WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption as well as a MAC address filter to ensure only trusted devices can connect to the MiFi 2200.

Using the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200

The Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 uses the Sprint cell network for data connectivity, so performance largely depends upon coverage in your area.  I tested the MiFi 2200 is downtown New York City, using an Apple iPad and a Dell Latitude laptop.  The MiFi 2200 can act as a WiFi hotspot for up to five devices simultaneously.

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 iPadI saw download speeds of around 400-500kbps and upload speeds of 500-600kbps, which I found to be perfectly usable for web surfing, making Skype voice calls and even watching Netflix on the iPad’s Netflix app.  Since I have the 3G iPad, I clocked some comparisons between using AT&T’s 3G radio on the iPad and using the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 to provide data.  The results were pretty interesting.

The iPad consistently loaded web pages faster using the MiFi 2200 compared to using the built-in AT&T 3G radio, and by a good margin.  For example CNET’s Crave page consistently loaded fully in 16-18 seconds on the iPad through the MiFi 2200, compared to 31-33 seconds through the built-in AT&T 3G radio.  Netflix started streaming quicker using the MiFi and playback was faultless, whereas there were occasional freezes using the AT&T 3G radio.  However the benchmark speed tests showed that the AT&T connection was capable of faster data bursts than the MiFi 2200, sometimes bursting as high as 1,300kbps.

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 Speedtest

Speedtest results from the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 in downtown New York City

This seems to indicate that the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 gets more consistent signal quality in my specific area of New York City, given that video streaming was smooth throughout my usage and pages loaded consistently quickly.  Whereas AT&T can provide faster one-time bursts in my area, although these are of lesser value to the quality of the overall web experience.

Looking to the MiFi 2200’s weaknesses, there’s very little to not like about using the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200.  Sure, we would love it to offer 4G rather than 3G and in our dreams that product might be born one day as a descendant of the Sprint Overdrive.  But given that Virgin Mobile is a newcomer to the mobile broadband sector, I wouldn’t expect to see a 4G Virgin Mobile MiFi until that market has sufficient saturation to warrant aggressive price competition.

It would also be great if the MiFi 2200 had a day-long battery rather than the 3-4 hours I experienced.  On the plus side as I mentioned earlier, the battery is swappable and you could of course plug the MiFi 2200 into a power outlet while using it if necessary.  The MiFi 2200 will also go into standby if not used for a while to save battery power.

Is the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 really a bargain?

In a word: Yes. Offering similar performance and mobility as its competitors but at a significantly lower monthly cost, the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 is an excellent deal.  It makes a great partner to any WiFi enabled mobile device and even makes me wish I’d bought the regular iPad instead of the 3G version!

Neil Berman

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Sep 16, 2010 - Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. I love my Virgin MiFi. When I don’t need it, I don’t subscribe. When I do, it’s inexpensive. I recently bought a USB charger ($19) that allows charging while using the 2200 which isn’t possible with the cable that ships. And there’s a third party battery addon that will allow for up to 12 hours of usage ($89), both from 3gstore.com.

    Comment by Ken | Oct 1, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hi, I like this blog, lots of good information, I want to subscribe it, can anyone help me?

    Comment by Elisha Miley | Jan 3, 2011 | Reply


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