Tag Archives: Road warrior

Road Warrior: MiFi and the Netbook

Here is my promised initial 30-day assessment of life on the road with the MiFi wireless hotspot from Verizon and the Acer Aspire netbook.

I traditionally travelled to NYC every week or two with a HP or Dell desktop replacement laptop and a Verizon Wireless’ PCMCIA PC5740 broadband access card.

This was a robust combination, but, for example the downside was the added weight when trekking from WAS>BWI>ISP>JFK/NYC>NYP>WAS by a combination of bus, train, cab, subway and plane with more than 10 pounds of hardware in my messenger bag and the garment bag in hand. Never checking bags and extensive use of mass transit required a solution to help me lose some weight from my shoulder and to allow me to run from train to train as needed.

By way of a sidebar, a wholesale store near me late last year whet my appetite to the netbook market with a ridiculously cheap Acer Aspire One with the 8 gig SSD (not a spinning hard drive, but a solid state one – like RAM or a memory stick). It ran XP and I tried Ubuntu’s netbook remix on it, but unfortunately though the aesthetics were pleasing, the performance resembled molasses. But I was hooked, I liked the small form factor and my dad has had a great experience with an Asus EEE netbook he has used and travelled with for several years.

Thanks to Derrick in our IT shop, I was able to liberate an Acer Aspire One, 160gig spinning HDD, XP home with the Intel Atom chip and a gig of RAM. After clearing the bloat off it, I proceeded to cautiously add Office 10 beta. I was worried that this would overwhelm the system given the minimal RAM, but it in fact runs pleasingly. After an initial pain in the arse to get the VPN installed, the Outlook runs and syncs nicely, and multitasks nicely with Chrome and IE8. The main thing I have to plan for when getting on the road is my file usage and needs on the office server – as I do not have server or SharePoint access from the netbook.

Things got interesting when Derrick suggested I guinea pig the two ounce Verizon Wireless MiFi 2200 (http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/mobilebroadband/?page=products_mifi)- a mobile wireless/WiFi hotspot that taps into the VZW 3G Ev-Do, after some initial arm twisting, I relented and said I would try it on a very limited basis (no really, I fought this change hard, honest!) This devise essentially acts the same way as a broadband router at home – you can connect a laptop, Zune, iPod, Kindle, Touch – whatever you want just by connecting to the wifi signal from the MiFi and plugging in the password.

The great thing is, that once charged, it does not need a tether. In theory, one can keep the MiFi in a pocket and browse the web with nothing more- a real bonus compared to the finicky PCMCIA air card (that didn’t like standby or hibernation). One thing I did notice, was that a full size laptop (the Dell) will charge the MiFi, but the netbook must not have the power to-the MiFi operates on netbook power, but does not charge. Luckily it also comes with a wall charger, but I elect not to use that to save weight. One other nit is that the MiFi has a proprietary mini-USB charger size, so a BlackBerry or other charger/sync cable is not compatible.

The inaugural trip was a trip with SWA to Albany from BWI. Both at the airport, on the plane and in the hotel, the setup worked flawlessly. In fact, I have discovered the MiFi offers me a better connection to the VZW network than did the old PC5740 – that in itself makes the move worthwhile.

All said, the battery life on the Acer and MiFi is stellar. Coming back on the Acela (2171) a couple of weeks ago, there was no power at the outlets, but I made it the whole way on battery power – including charging the BlackBerry and watching a TV show on VLC player via a USB stick. The extended life battery on the netbook is a big factor in this. Skype works great thanks to the built in camera – even on the MiFi (when on EV-DO) the picture and speed is healthy, with no noticeable lag.

On the whole, life is good with this new setup – and my shoulder is happier. Will post more as it matures, in fact tomorrow when I am on the 21oo to NYC.

One final piece of advice, if using or contemplating a netbook, definitely get a wireless optical mouse, they netbook is good, but the track-pad does leave some substantial room for improvement.

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