Novatel Wireless’ MiFi 3352 is a portable 3G/mobile broadband router that lets you share your 3G data link with up to five devices using 802.11b/g wireless technology. It's similar to the Novatel MiFi 2352, but with added features and a different interface.
This small router is rather good-looking, with a smart gloss black front (unfortunately prone to fingerprints) and a matt rear panel.
The Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352's cod-chrome trim hosts a Micro-USB power port, a microSDHC card slot - for up to 32GB of shared storage among your connected devices - and an on/off power button.
A multi-colour LED built into the power button displays various hues to denote its status. In use, we saw only a blinking pink LED as it located an available 3G network, and constant pink as it connected to said network.
Other colours you might see include: green, for when a 2G network has been located; blue, for when a roaming network is available; cyan, for when an SMS message has been received; and red, for when the juice is running low. Further along the device's side, a Wi-Fi LED glows blue when the MiFi is transmitting a wireless signal.
The sturdy-feeling build of the Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352 is reassuring, pebble-like but with rounded square corners that will do no damage to any other items thrown in your bag. Given Novatel's pricing, however, we'd expect no less.
The Novatel MiFi 3352 is available SIM-free for around £135 (Amazon), or locked to Orange from £10 per month with 500MB mobile data. We tested the unlocked device over the Vodafone UK network.
Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352: Setup
Setup of the Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352 was reasonably simple, yet a little too involved for our liking. We removed the Novatel's rear panel and inserted the SIM and battery, then noted down the SSID and encryption key printed on its underside. Within seconds of switching on the device its power LED was blinking pink to confirm that it had found Vodafone’s 3G network. We waited a few more seconds for the Wi-Fi symbol to glow blue, then picked it up on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 as a secured wireless connection.
Upon opening a web browser, we were immediately taken to the device's MiFi web interface and asked to log in. Since this was an unlocked model, we headed to Settings, Internet, Profiles and entered the APN details for Vodafone.
We can only assume that those acquiring the device through Orange will be able to skip this step. Finally, we clicked the Connect button that sits at the top of every page.
With the 3352 connected to Vodafone's 3G network, up to five wireless devices can pick up its 11g broadcast (note the lack of n) wireless signal and were instantly online.
By default, you must logon to the device and click Connect, something of a nuisance, although you can tweak the settings so it connects by 3G whenever it’s first switched on.
Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352: Interface
Since you'll be seeing the web interface every time you want to use this portable router, it makes sense for it to be a good one. Novatel uses the MiFi OS, a name that's become synonymous with mobile Wi-Fi.
The Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352 offers a very clean user interface, with several icons running along the top of the window to show you at-a-glance information on the Novatel's battery level, Wi-Fi and GPS status, available networks, signal strength and whether the device is online.
Novatel's MiFi OS for the Novatel 3352
Five widgets - Messages, Data Usage, GeoSearch, Weather and MiFi DLNA Server - are also offered, and you can control whether each is accessible to guests or admin users only, and how often the information they contain is refreshed.
Many data plans afford you a given number of inclusive text messages per month, and the Vodafone Mobile Broadband software we normally use with a Huawei K3805-Z USB dongle offers a similar feature to MiFi's Messages widget.
This is in essence an inbox, able to store your sent and received text messages, plus a list of contacts. However, since we have a phone with a standard mobile contract, we've never needed to take advantage of this feature.
If, however, you're using a standard SIM taken from your smartphone, the SMS feature could be useful if others are trying to contact you while the handset is out of action.
The Data Usage widget is able to, quite simply, track your data usage, and is potentially of more use than Messages - particularly if you subscribe to Orange's meagre 500MB monthly data plan.
This amount of data may be enough for some smartphones, with mobile-optimised sites consuming a smaller chunk of your allowance than full-blown desktop websites. Start bringing tablets, laptops and PCs into the mix, however, and that 500MB will quickly dry up.
It might be worth noting that Orange also offers between 1GB and 3GB anytime access to BT Openzone networks with its more expensive plans. But the point of mobile broadband is to find independence from shops’ and cafes’ Wi-Fi services.
Where on earth?
GeoSearch makes use of the Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352's GPS capability to display a map of the local area. You can search the area for particular places, with the results shown directly on the map. It's not perhaps any more useful than the Weather widget, which shows you a forecast, either local or a defined area. The information obtained from both is easy to glean from the web if you have an active internet connection, but they may be useful to some users.
Finally, the MiFi DLNA Server widget offers configuration options and lets you start or stop the media-sharing service. This makes use of the device's microSDHC slot, letting you share up to 32GB of storage between your wirelessly connected devices.
MiFi OS also offers several tweakable settings: you can change the security level and encryption key, see what devices are connected to your router, enable a MAC filter and allow only trusted clients, enable port filtering and lock the SIM. You can also adjust the length of idle time before the device is automatically shut down, which is useful if you need to conserve battery life and it accidentally switches on inside your bag.
Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352: Performance
While the Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352 certainly has its uses, delivering optimal performance is not one of them. We found much better results using our Vodafone SIM in a smartphone than when we wirelessly connected it to the web via the MiFi 3352.
With the Vodafone SIM inside our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, Speedtest.net recorded a ping time of 219 ms, a download speed of 4.8 megabit per second (Mbps), and upload of 2.3 Mbps. When we connected the smartphone to the web via the Novatel 3352, we saw a much slower ping time of 396ms, and reduced connection speeds of 2.8 Mbps and 1.7 Mbps respectively.
Interestingly, performance was marginally improved as we moved our smartphone away from the device, and into the next room. Here, we measured a ping time of 384 ms, a download speed of 3.1 Mbps, and 1.8 Mbps upload.
This performance was mirrored on our Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Accessing the internet via the MiFi's wireless signal, we measured a ping time of 204 ms, a download speed of 3.8 Mbps, and 1.1 Mbps upload; from the next room, we recorded a ping of 184 ms, a download of 4.6 Mbps and upload of 1.4 Mbps.
An integral battery can be charged via a supplied mains adaptor or USB and is said to last for up to four hours. This lifespan is reduced as additional devices connect to the network.
The Novatel Wireless MiFi 3352 is thus more a temporary web-access solution for use on the road than a permanent home 3G router, such as the TP-Link TL-MR3020.