By the time Palm announced the Pixi Plus and Pre Plus at CES earlier this month, there wasn’t a whole lot left to reveal. From the names, to the specs, all the way down to the carrier the handsets would launch on — just about everything had made it into the realm of public knowledge by way of the rumor mill.
However, there was at least one feature that Palm managed to keep hidden up their sleeve: Mobile HotSpot. With the flick of a switch, the Mobile Hotspot application turns the Pre Plus or Pixi Plus into a WiFi router for up to 5 users simultaneously, fueled by Verizon’s 3G network. We’ve spent the last few hours tinkering with a pre-release copy of Mobile HotSpot – read on for our impressions.
Attempting to explain how simple it is to set up Mobile HotSpot is probably more difficult than actually setting it up. You install it, flip the switch from “off” to “on”, and then choose a password. Bam! Within about 5 seconds, you’ve got a new WiFi hotspot waiting for you in your list of available networks. Remember the first time you plugged in a mouse via USB and it fired right up while you were digging around for the instructions on what to do next? It’s like that, except you’re not even plugging anything in.
Like the setup process, keeping it all running couldn’t be much simpler. Want to change the name of the network? Tap the name, punch in a new one. Want to change the password? Same deal. If you forget your password or need to share it with a friend without shouting it to the entire room, they’ve got a “Show Passphrase” button right at the top – tap it once and your password is revealed, tap it again and it’s obfuscated. Palm has made this as absolutely, drop-dead simple as they possibly could have, and it’s a really great experience.
Oddly, there’s no way to manage connected users. While you’re alerted the instant someone connects and there’s a running list of everyone who is currently connected, there isn’t any means of disconnecting users without changing the password. This probably won’t be an issue as long as you play it smart with your security info, but it’s still something we expected to see.
Also strange: there’s no data usage meter. Considering that Verizon’s charging $40 bucks (on top of the normal voice/data plan fees) for 5 gigs of 3G Hotspot access with an overage fee of 5 cents per megabyte (or roughly 51 bucks per gigabyte), I’d imagine that people are going to want to keep a close eye on just how much data they’re gobbling up. Sure, you can find these numbers in your Verizon account pages – but why can’t the application pull that same information down, or at least provide the data for the current session for the sake of keeping tabs on things?
This is not something you’re going to want to run all the time, unless you’re near an outlet. As we probably could have expected out of any application that is simultaneously pulling and pushing a ton of data, Mobile Hotspot hammers the battery. Even when no clients are connected, we were noticing the battery drain about 50% faster than it otherwise would.
The more people you’ve got connected simultaneously, the faster it’ll drain the battery; with 2-3 people pulling down a fair share of data, you can probably expect to drain this thing dead in about 3 hours.
Ah, speed. Once you’re all setup, it’s the most important factor.
Unfortunately, our tests in this department were.. inconclusive, to say the least. Verizon seemed to be having some issues in my little corner of Central California today; while the network seemed stable enough at first glance, the speeds I was seeing were considerably slower than normal.
I ran speed tests across the Pre Plus, Pixi Plus, and Verizon Mifi, all of which were averaging about 85 kilobytes per second for both upload and download. I generally see download speeds that are very, very much faster than that. With that said, I’ve seen no evidence that suggests the Mobile HotSpot app pushes data out at speeds any slower than a MiFi or a dedicated Verizon mobile broadband dongle; as far as I can tell, it’s matching them kilobyte-for-kilobyte. Up until we sat down to do the formal testing, Verizon’s network — and the Mobile HotSpot app — were awesomely fast.
Your mileage will obviously vary from region to region, but I wouldn’t expect Mobile Hotspot to be the bottleneck. I’ll run a few more tests in other locales over the next few days and update accordingly.
Simple to set up? Check! Simple to use? Save for a few trivial nitpicks, check! Nice and speedy? Well, as much as my local Verizon towers will allow at the moment.
While AT&T continues to promise that tethering on the iPhone is just around the corner, Verizon and Palm have launched what is quite possibly the slickest tethering solution to ever grace a mobile handset. The $40 monthly price tag seems a bit steep considering the 5 gigabyte cap, but that same 5 gigabyte plan would set you back $60 if you instead opted for a MiFi.
At this price, it’s certainly not for everyone – but if you’ve got a need for multi-person mobile broadband and were already looking to pick up a Pre Plus or Pixi Plus, it’s your best bet.