GEDC0518A while ago, I wrote about the idea of using a MiFi to retrofit 3G mobile web access to wifi-capable devices (such as e-readers), and I also mentioned the TruConnect MiFi pay-as-you-go service that allows bite-sized prepaid-3G-wifi usage with no contract required.

It has been a couple of weeks since I received my TruConnect MiFi for Christmas, and I’ve used it enough to get a decent idea of how well it works. I use the MiFi mostly with my iPod Touch and iPad, though I have had the chance to try it with my laptop as well.

Fundamentally, the device works at a speed of 320 kilobits down, 100 kilobits up. Even if it weren’t for the per-megabyte bandwidth charges, this is not something you would want to use to watch YouTube movies, and streaming Netflix is right out of the question. (I tried streaming Pandora as an experiment, and it played half a song and then started having to buffer every few seconds.)

Indeed, anything more than simple web browsing and text chat seems remarkably slow. If you get one of these and use it for web browsing, you will probably want to use a browser such as Opera that supports a low-bandwidth “turbo” mode. (Of course, it’s all relative. Back in the ‘90s, to anyone stuck with a dial-up modem, 320/100 kilobits would have been heavenly speed.)

Signing up with the TruConnect service was relatively simple—or it should have been, save that there was some sort of problem creating my account the first time, and I had to send in a ticket and wait a couple of days for them to reset the account so I could use it.

The service uses Sprint’s 3G mobile network, and charges $4.99 per month of use, plus 3.9 cents per megabyte of usage. The monthly charge only applies for months in which the device is used—though since I’m going to be using it pretty much every day, I can’t imagine I’ll ever go a month without being charged. It is a pre-paid service: they charge you $10 at a time to fill your account, then you use from that balance and they top up your account whenever your balance dwindles to $5. (They did accidentally charge me twice for my first top-up, but they noticed and corrected the issue themselves.)

My main use of the MiFi thus far has been for checking e-mail, loading RSS feeds into Reeder, and checking or updating Facebook and Twitter. It tends to take a while to get any results—I have to give it a minute or so for Facebook or Reeder to start to update. But as slow as it runs, I expect that’s fairly normal. The MiFi also lets me check in on Yelp, Facebook, or Foursquare, even from places that don’t have wifi of their own. I just need to be able to detect some other wireless network, and the iPod Touch or iPad’s geolocation service looks up its SSID to find out where I am.

When using it with my laptop, I can plug in the included USB cable to the device and use it as a USB 3G modem. This also lets it charge the battery, but turns wifi off so I can’t use it with my other gadgets. (I gather there may be a way to patch it so I can still use it with wifi at the same time, but I haven’t looked into that yet.) The first time it is connected to a computer, it will install a NovaTel USB connection utility off of internal storage, which allows the laptop to connect and monitors bandwidth usage.

While I have not actually used the device to download an e-book yet, I have little doubt I could do so easily with IOS 5’s integration of Safari with other apps for download purposes. Most e-books are small enough that they ought to download right away.

As far as battery life goes, it promises 4 hours of use or 40 of standby. I think that might be a little optimistic, but most of the time I’m able to get at least a couple of hours of continuous use out of it before it starts warning me of low battery power. For just checking on my breaks at work, or occasionally while I’m out and about, I can use it all day without problems. I do charge it overnight, every night.

There are a few things about the MiFi that I don’t like quite as much, however. For example, I’m not entirely sure why, but frequently when I’m using it with my iPod Touch or iPad I have to turn it off twice, because a second after the first time I turn it off, it comes right back on again. (I’m guessing this has something to do with the way the iOS devices maintain a wifi connection for a while even after I put them to sleep—perhaps the MiFi senses they’re trying to send something, and comes right back on again.) Sometimes it won’t turn off the second time, and I actually have to pop the battery out to get it to shut down. It also gets a little warm during use—not hot enough to burn, but certainly hot enough I can feel it in my pocket.

One other thing that’s slightly annoying is that the device came with a label on the bottom listing the default SSID and password (both of which I’ve since changed), just in case you have to reset the device to factory settings. However, within just a couple of days of carrying it in my pocket, that information had rubbed entirely off! Fortunately the device came with that information copied down on an insert card as well, and I copied it into my Evernote so I won’t lose it,

At any rate, I’m pretty happy with the device so far. The service can seem frustratingly slow at times, but then so can any 3G service. And when I consider that this lets me have iPhone-like mobile web access from my iPod Touch without having to pay an iPhone monthly contract fee, it’s worth every penny.


  1. The Virgin MiFi is $50 a month for “unlimited” use (speed is throttled after the first 2.5 gigs), $10 for 100 megs in 10 days, or if you buy your MiFi at WalMart, there’s a $20 plan that gives you 1 gig in a month (non-Walmart MiFis get 500 megs).

    • For my needs, though, I couldn’t see paying that much. If I wanted to use 100 megabytes in ten days on my device, I’d pay $3.90, not $10. (Or $8.89 if you count the $4.99 for the month, and then I’d be covered for the next two stretches of ten days at $3.90, too.) And I’m certainly not going to use anywhere near a gig in a month.

  2. I also have the TruConnect, only slightly longer than you. I switched from a pay as you go Verizon MiFi because of the cost. The TrueConnect has worked ok. One of the places we traveled over Thanksgiving that was suppose to have good coverage had very marginal coverage. Had to find one place in the house that had a little signal and leave it there. Elsewhere we traveled it worked fine. I think the speed varies with location, I didn’t actually measure the speed but I think I would have noticed if it was that slow on a regular bases.

    A friend also has one and he has it semi permanently installed in his car with a USB/power adapter. He finds it handy to have cheap WiFI available for his iPad and Android when waiting for his wife.

  3. I had a virgin mobile mifi and the connection was always spotty and extremely slow, despite the fact that I live very close to a sprint tower. Often had trouble getting a signal at work, so I assumed it was a generic problem with these devices. I put the mifi away for awhile (You have to activate it once a year to keep the grandfathered $40 “unlimited” rate) and tried a TruConnect mifi a few months ago, which also uses the Sprint network. Not only was the device itself half the price of the Virgin mobile (seemingly identical) hardware, but the service has been significantly faster and steadier. I really like being able to check my email now and then, without having to activate a $40 a month plan that I may only use once or twice a month. For extended service (for example, if the cable were to go out or on a lengthy vacation, I would switch back to Virgin Mobile for ‘unlimited’, but it was dirt slow in comparison. For everyday quick checks of mail or news, the TruConnect has been great. I haven’t lost the signal once, haven’t had to take the battery our and reset as I often had to do with the other mifi, etc. It just works. I’m picking up signals in places the other one never did. This may just be a coincidence…possibly the VM mifi I received was defective but they never acknowledged that when I tried to contact customer service… the slow speeds seemed “normal” to them. I suppose it’s possible Sprint is throttling down Virgin’s service and not TruConnect’s, as traffic via TC presumably is lighter. Whatever the reason, I’m quite happy with it. Paying $5 a month to have the security of knowing you can connect wherever you happen to be — even if I dont use it– seems fair, especially compared to laying out $40 a month VM plan, or $100 a month for an iphone plan. Very happy with it.

  4. Thanks for your review. I’ve been considering the Tru Connect Mi-fi device for the Ipod touch 4 that I bought my son and daughter for Christmas. In the app store I found a application that allows the Touch to make calls (like the iphone) as long as there is a Wi-Fi or 3-4g connection available. The app works great on our home wi-fi network, but do you think the Tru Connect device would be too slow to support a voice application? I have been prolonging buying them an iphone 4S and thought this might be a solution that could possibly buy me some time, but I’m still gathering info and feedback from others who have used this Mi Fi device already. Thanks, in advance for your reply.


  5. I lived in a rural area for a while and had Verizons’ MiFi as my only Internet connection for just shy of a year. I had the same issue with the device as you listed, taking twice to turn it off. I suspect it’s a bug with the switch in the MiFi itself.

    Overall I was surprised at how well I did on 3G service only (I work online and the only time I’m offline is when I’m sleeping or showering), though as you pointed out, YouTube, Netflix, most of Hulu and even Windows updates are all verboten.

  6. I like this idea of pay as you go sinnce I have wifi at home but occasional have need to travel where there is no wifi.

    I am thinking of getting a wifi iPad and wondering how this device would work in a GPS application. I understand it has GPS chip that you can enable or disable. Wondering how much data I’d be using for turn by turn navigation?

  7. I bought a TruConnect Mifi device and I hate it. Admittedly, I was unaware of how much data netflix would use but I watched 2 movies and paid $60. I took the hit because it was my fault, but a few days later I turned it back on just to check my email and bank account (which I was advised would leave me in the safe zone as far as “regular usage” goes) on my my ipad and was charged another $30 for 20 minutes of usage. I’m returning the device asap; I thought AT&T’s hotspot plans were expensive! I’ll be going back to that. Not to mention the customer service rep I spoke with was intolerably lacking ‘customer service’ skills.
    Boo TruConnect Mifi.

  8. I bought a TruConnect Mifi based on the description presented on their website. I checked the coverage where I intend to use it. Marginal at best. I need some way to connect a credit card swiper/printer to the internet. I sell goods on the road and didn’t like the idea of imprinting a receipt and later entering it through my computer. So far it works fine. The TruConnect Mifi passes through the encrypted account information and does everything I want it to do. I am satisfied with the device and think anyone needing internet access would be satisfied. I would recommend it to a friend only after determining that their needs would be met with the speed and cost of the service.

  9. Based on my own further experience with the device, I have to say that it’s exactly the thing I needed. The thing I use it for 90% of the time is updating Reeder on my iPod Touch on my coffee and lunch breaks at work. It’s somewhat slower than regular wifi, but quite fast enough to snag my headlines and let me rip through a few dozen of them when I have a spare moment so that I can dedicate my time at home to writing rather than winnowing.

  10. I was looking for something mobile as I live in my RV and do not always have access to the internet. I have a computer and blackberry playbook. The first week I had the mifi device I was charged $40.00. I did not down load anything at all. I simply serfed the net and checked emails. I will stay with my Verizon plan, in the long run it will be much cheeper. I am returning my mifi and good luck to all that keep it.

  11. @bigtex, what kind of plan did you purchase? It’s possible that you got charged $40 up front for one month of service, rather than for the amount of data that you had used that week. I would check the terms of the plan you signed up for before returning it.

  12. This isn’t worth the buy BAD customer service, I got the device and it worked one day and the next day it wouldn’t come on or hold a charge…..So i couldn’t find their number on the website so I used the support email online and sent them an email and they said they would get back with me and that was Thursday morning and now its Monday Afternoon, So i called Novatell Wireless to get TruConnect number and called and she said that the reason they didn’t reply back was because they needed 24hours and they don’t work on the weekend. She also LACKED PEOPLE SKILLS on the phone I think she tried to get smart with me. I would rather pay the extra money for better service and customer support…..YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

  13. I found it would not work where I live so returned it and did get a full refund. The problem is they are still charging my credit card 2 months later. When you press deactivate button on device management screen it just goes in a circle and starts over.

  14. Can I buy my hardware elsewhere like ebay or amazon (much cheaper) and have truconnect activate it? Will sprint novatel mifi or verizon novatel brand work with the truconnect network? I understand they use same cdma technology. Thanks.

  15. Update – I bought a non-branded unlocked Novatel 2200 from ebay (35$) registered to truconnect network, installed mobilink3 software, and presto, I’m connected to the internet. Average speed is 1.7 down and .7 up. Not bad. Will update later.

  16. here’s the ebay vendor where i bought the unlocked mifi 2200 –
    they have 4 more on stock – also, maybe this will also work with walmart’s (internet on the go) – good luck

  17. @Don

    I just ordered an (unlocked) Novatel MiFi 2200.
    Haven’t received it yet, but in reading the manual from the manufacturer vs. the quick-start guide from TruConnect, I have one question that you could probably answer.

    The WWAN configuration requires 3 values:
    * ESN (printed on a sticker on the back of the device)
    * MiFi Account #(MDN)
    * MSID

    MDN = public ID for your specifc wireless service.
    MSID = internal ID your network uses to identify your account.

    did TruConnect tell you their MDN?
    did TruConnect tell you your MSID after activation (via their website)?

    thanks so much if you could clear this up. 🙂

  18. hello, when i activated my novatel 2200 (i still use it while on the road), truconnect required me to register one of the esn numbers, and i was instantaneously connected. of course you have to configure your devices also (ipad, or iphone, or laptop. just like connecting thru a wifi. ) truconnect is mvno, and their network uses sprint. good luck.

  19. I’ve been using mine for about a month now. I’m fairly satisfied. I have the same complaints: it gets hot, battery life isn’t great, and connections are sometimes slow or non-existent. I got it to save money compared with cellular data plans. I’m making new habits so I use less mobile data. I’m succeeding, but I have to be careful. I’m forming new habits of not accessing anything unless I really want to. I keep it off most of the time and turn it on for a minute at a time a couple of times a day, to let email stream in and out.

  20. when I bought mine, it was 8gb’s for $45.00. then it dropped to 4gb’s for $45.00, and now is 3gb’s for $45.00. Then I found out by checking the transfer rate that they were dropping the signal at 500 to 600kbs and charging me for a full 1 meg. That effectively ups the cost to $45.00 for 2.25gb’s. I changed to AT&T and get a full 5gb’s for $41.00; but on a contract and at a 4g speed. I told TruConnect to stop charging my credit card, but for some reason “Accounting has a problem, but we’ll look into it.” Wal-Mart says that they have nothing to do with them, they just use WM’s name. BS is cheap! BEWARE, you have been warned.

  21. I checked things out this AM and found that: T-Mobile offers 5gb’s at $30.00, but not much coverage area. Sprint has 6gb’s for $50.00, and AT&T has 5bg’s for $50.00, and yes, you need a contract. BUT TruConnect is really charging $22.50 per gb’s. And as the said this AM when I asked why, “We have no contract with you, so we can change the price when we ‘need to’. Read the terms !” His Spanish/English is strong, but his point was very clear. You ride with the bull, you sure as heck will get the horn!

  22. It sounds like you were using the Wal-Mart branded TruConnect plan, which I discussed in another post. The one this one reviews is the TruConnect-branded cents-per-megabyte plan, which the website still says is at the same rate as it was when I wrote this: $4.99 per month plus 3.9 cents per megabyte.

  23. hello, has anyone here tried freedompop? any comparison with the truconnect service? btw, i’m still using my 2200 albeit occasionally and i have no complaint. if you do not want a huge bill, then limit its usage. if you are a huge bandwitdh hog, it is better to go postpaid, this pay as you go service is for light usage only.

  24. Walmart has the same device for light users. You can buy data cards and use it at your own speed. $45 for 4 gb ($11.25 p/gb) and if you only use it sporadically, that could last you years, it will for me. As long as you use it once a year, it doesn’t expire. No plan, no montly fee. Works well, a little slow. More expensive up front $80 but perfect for light users and much cheaper in the long run. My battery lasts a very long time, I shut it off when not using to be sure not to mistakenly connect when I don’t want to.

  25. Also, I have heard of freedom pop. After reading many reviews, I decided to go with the prepaid data cards and truconnect. Turns out, freedompop is famous for charging for unused data and you have no recourse. Either they will be out of business soon (and filthy rich in the process) or they will mend their ways. I love the free date offerred, but it wasn’t worth the risk of being charged. My trueconnect is set to NOT top me up if I run out, I have to do it myself. So far they have not shown date usage on days I didn’t use it. At my current rate, my $45 will last at least a couple years.

  26. Worked for the first summer. Deactivated in the fall as I wouldn’t be using it, Deactivation was instant.
    Reactivated on may 13, 2014. May 27, 2014, still waiting for them to turn my service back on. My largest event of the summer has already passed and I lost quite a bit in sales due to no internet for credit cards.
    If you are looking for a service you can turn on and off as they advertise I would say stay away from truconnect.
    I will be going with a smart phone and Pay Pal Here.

  27. Depends on the persons needs. I only need it rarely and sporadically. I got 4gb of data and no contract. I expect that 4gb of data to last me at least a year, maybe two. Its already been a couple monts and I have barely made a dent. $45 for necessary online access for a year or two (perhaps more) works for me. My phone is a Moto X with Republic wireless with no data, but unlimited calling and texting at $10. If I go in vacation and need data, I can upgrade the plan for the month for $15 because I will use alot only when traveling. I can change it back the next month and use the MIFI for around town when I need it.

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