During a recent trip to Spain I used a local sim card for internet access. More and more countries have prepaid options for affordable mobile internet these days. There are currently multiple options to use mobile internet also on Wifi connected hardware such as a laptop or wifi enabled tablet. Most smartphones these days have a portable hotspot option, like can be found on WebOS, Android and more recently iOS. And then there are dedicated portable 3G routers like the Novatel Mifi (reviewed by Remo) and the Huawei Pocket Wifi modem (reviewed here).
In this post I would like to take a short look at my experiences with these multiple options for mobile internet access. For this I used my Kindle3, an Android Tablet and an iPad1. As hotspot I used a Palm Pre, HTC Android phone and a Novatel Mifi. The Palm Pre allows for multiple devices to connect to it and supports Infrastructure mode. As the Kindle3 can not connect to an Ad Hoc wifi accesspoint this was needed for it to connect to the internet. Unfortunately the Pre would heat up after a while when using it actively with multiple clients. Battery life was also greatly impacted.
The build in portable hotspot for Android worked well and also allowed the Kindle3 to connect as well as multiple clients. Past experiences with other hotspot applications on Android showed that not all support multiple clients though and also function often as an Ad Hoc accesspoint preventing for example a Kindle3 to connect. Downside of the smartphone as a hotspot was again the battery life and increased heat generated by the device
The Novatel Mifi worked great offering easy access to multiple clients, it would heat up, but not to such an extent as the smartphones did. Furthermore battery life was still very reasonable, offering multiple hours of uninterrupted internet access.
Earlier this year a personal hotspot option became available on iOS but limited to the iPhone4. Not all providers seem to support it though, and extra service plans are sometimes needed to get it to work. Reviews by others seem to indicate that also this personal hotspot has quite an effect on battery life. Since most smartphones only work for about a day now with normal usage this is the greatest downside of using your phone as a wifi hotspot. You might not be able to continue using it for the rest of your day.
Based on my experiences I have decided to only use my smartphone as a personal hotspot when I need it very infrequently to offer that function. For (more) regular usage I will stick to a dedicated portable 3G router.