Review: TruConnect Mifi

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If you’re one of the millions of people who made 2012 the Year of the Tablet, your decision wasn’t just which tablet to buy. You had to figure out how you were going to connect your tablet to the internet.

Maybe you just tethered it to your smartphone via Bluetooth and used your existing carrier data plan to get internet access. Or you bought your tablet and a data plan together for a seamless (albeit somewhat expensive) solution.

But if your situation (like mine) doesn’t allow either of those options, you may start looking at an external mifi device. Here’s how one such service stacks up.

I was in a bind. I didn’t (and still don’t) have much of a smartphone (my ancient Blackberry Curve could barely pick up email, let alone support web surfing). And I was a little put off by what I’d heard about wireless carriers charging for overages and throttling data after certain thresholds. But I was determined to get a tablet, so I starting looking around for a cheaper (or at least more fairly priced) option for internet connectivity.

A More Straightforward Solution

My search soon turned up an intriguing option: TruConnect. Rather than paying my wireless carrier a set price for 2 Gigs of data (not being sure whether I’d use that much or, worse, accidentally going over and getting socked with a massive overage charge), TruConnect’s pricing was simple: $4.99 per month and then just 3.9 cents per megabyte of data used.

Actually, the TruConnect version I got from a local big box retailer was even simpler: no monthly access charge, just pay-as-you-go cards with pre-set data amounts (for either 30-day or “whenever you like” usage) like a no-contract cell phone. I registered the device online, applied my first $10 pay-as-you-go card to my account, and once I typed in my security key (printed on the bottom of the device), I was ready to rock.

In short, I pay for what I use and just top-off my account when needed. (Auto-refill from a debit or credit card is available.) For the first two months, I’ve used around $10 of bandwidth per month, less than half of what my cell phone carrier charges for its cheapest data plan.

The Hardware

TruConnect offers two different mifi devices, both from Novatel. One (the Novatel Ovation 760) is a USB stick more appropriate for laptops. The one I purchased and reviewed is the Novatel 2200 mifi, a small silver device about the size of a stack of a dozen business cards. It will provide up to four hours of secure 802.11b/g 2.4GHz connectivity at speeds up to 3.1 Mbps for up to five WiFi enabled laptops, tablets or other devices simultaneously (which can come in handy for working lunches out).

The Novatel 2200 (also offered by Verizon, Virgin Mobile and other wireless carriers) is a sturdy intuitive device. While it comes with a brochure-style user’s manual, it’s pretty idiot-proof. That thing that looks like an on button, is. When it lights up green, it’s on and connected to the grid. When the other green indicator light on the side blinks, it’s sending/receiving data. When the button turns blue, it’s not getting a strong enough signal to connect (which happened to me once in a restaurant with unusually thick concrete walls).

I use mine three to four times a day for about 30 minutes at a time for email, basic web surfing and app use (during a bus commute to and from work, during lunch and occasionally in the evening if I’m away from home and have my tablet with me). In those contexts, it’s worked pretty well, even while riding down an interstate highway. (TruConnect offers a coverage map you’ll want to check before purchasing.)

I’ve found, however, that TruConnect doesn’t work so well with streaming video. If you want to watch YouTube while you’re stuck waiting somewhere, you’ll be disappointed. If you don’t wait for most of the video to load before hitting the play button, playback will skitter and pause frequently.

The device also becomes noticeably warm during use, which can make it slightly uncomfortable to hold (as I do during my morning and afternoon bus commute). I found the included soft-sided carrying case inadequate because the power button could accidentally get pushed inside a purse or tote; instead, I re-purposed a hard shell case from my old cellular modem for better protection.

Good Inexpensive Solution for Basic Web Surfing

In summary, if you’re looking for some basic connectivity for your tablet or laptop for checking email and web surfing and don’t want to pay monthly wireless carrier rates, TruConnect is worth looking at. If your on-the-road internet connectivity requires regular access to high-bandwidth applications like streaming video, look elsewhere.

Summary

TruConnect Mifi

Reviewed by Deborah Savadra on .

Summary: TruConnect’s Novatel 2200 Mifi provides good, inexpensive on-the-go basic broadband, as long as you don’t need to stream video.

Breakdown:

  • Price and features: 4
  • Hardware and design: 5
  • Performance: 3

Overall score: 4 (out of 5)

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/believekevin/130936470/)

Legal Technology

  • http://BryanGriffith.com Bryan M. Griffith, J.D.

    You should check out FreedomPop which would provide you with 400-500 MB of free 4G every month. So far I have enjoyed their service, where coverage is available.

    http://www.freedompop.com/

    And their pay-as-you go price is only $0.02/MB and if you buy a plan, even as little as $10/mo. your overage is only $0.01/MB.

    • http://legalofficeguru.com Deborah Savadra

      Thanks for the heads-up. I hope anyone else who knows of other mifis will chime in, too!

      • Michael Solomon

        Hi Deborah,
        My review of Truconnect MiFi would be somewhat different; peformance I would rate as a 1 (ONE, that’s right ONE):
        Use a speed test, like speakeasy.com and the speed goes from 0.1 to 0.5 Mbps. This is a disaster compared to most public WiFi hotspots which run at 15-20 Mbps. I called thei support and they had no answer although
        they say it runs at 3Mbps and advised me to move to a different area, that there may be obstruction, etc., etc.
        Otherwise, it is fine, small, compact, easy to use, although I was getting a BSOD with the Wireless Card in my IBM X61 laptop. This was rectified
        by replacing the card with a USB Wireless Adapter.
        The last disappointment I had was attempting to use SKYPE to connect to my 100 y/o mother in a nursing home, only to find the connection was not fast enough to transmit the video paortion of the call.
        What is really the worst part of all of this, is that they are deceiving
        the public by claiming this device reaches download rates of 3Mbps.
        Caveat Emptor – a cheap price for poor performance; maybe an injection of steroids would help!

  • Nicki

    I got the TruConnect summer of 2012. It worked great until….I wanted to deactivate for the promised 60 days. It would not work on-line, CS would not answer e-mails so called and had to fight with the company and pay one more month than I wanted to finally get it deactivated. I just signed on to the web to try and reactivate the device and it would not work. Once again Customer service was useless. Bottom line, do not count on the ability to easily deactivate the device for 60 days and then reactivate.

    • LC McCain

      I had the same experience. My TruConnect mifi worked great until I tried to deactivate it temporarily to save money during a period of inactivity. Upon re-activating it, and even after contacting customer support multiple times for help, I still cannot get it to work. I’m trying once more to get help. If CS is unable to help me get online in this final attempt, I’m going to punt.

  • Charles Uphoff

    Buyer Beware. TruConnect is NOT an affordable option if you want to use it for anything besides occasional e-mail. Their $.039 per megabyte rate is nearly four times the rate charged by AT&T for data and they won’t refund any unused balance if you decide to discontinue their service. TruConnect is truly a rip-off

    • http://legalofficeguru.com Deborah Savadra

      With these kinds of services, “affordable” is in the eyes of the consumer–it depends on your particular usage patterns. If you’re looking to use a huge amount of bandwidth (video, etc.), then of course you’re going to go with the lowest cost per megabyte. If, like me, you’re not regularly topping out the 2-5 gigs offered on a monthly basis by a carrier like AT&T or Verizon, then paying $50 a month just to use 1 gig doesn’t make sense. I check email on the device three times daily plus do web surfing, and I barely break 1 gig a month.

      And this is the first time I’ve ever heard anybody assert that ANY wireless company would refund unused anything–minutes, bandwidth, etc. That’s NEVER been my experience with any company I’ve used.

  • http://publisherspayments.com Rich Hamilton

    Charles, the TruConnect option IS affordable if you use the “big box store” option Deborah mentioned. No monthly fee and you pay $45 for a 4GB refill that does not expire. Occasional users may find that lasts a year or longer! You should know that there’s only one big box store that offers it with that pricing (Walmart) and most stores don’t stock the device so you’ll have to buy it online. Even online they run out of stock regularly because it’s such a good deal, so you may have to check back regularly to find it.

    I’ve been paying $50 a month for 5gb a month from Verizon and I never go over 1GB of monthly usage. So I’ll be much better off; a $45 refill will probably last me 6 or 7 months. I see this as saving me $500 a year! The 3G speed is slower but I had that before 4G came in and it was pretty serviceable, except for videos.