The first thing you notice about vividwireless' portable ViViFi modem is just how cute it is. I had to wrest the diminutive device away from the CIO editor, who was sitting at her cubicle caressing it and making vaguely Gollum-esque noises. The modem looks vaguely like an Oreo, if the biscuit parts were removed and if Oreos were square, made out of plastic and designed by Apple. So perhaps the best way to describe the modem is: It's not like an Oreo.
The ViViFi is a combo Wi-Fi hotspot/4G modem that uses vividwireless' WiMAX network. It's equipped with an internal lithium-ion battery that can be charged using the included AC adapter. The adapter plugs into a Micro-USB port, which can also be used to directly attach the modem to a computer for charging or direct Internet connectivity. vividwireless rates the battery at 7.48 hours of usage and 12 hours standby.
Perhaps the best thing about this device — apart from the fact it's both adorable and supremely portable — is that it is so simple to use. Simply connect to the wireless network broadcast by the ViViFi using the SSID (network name) and password displayed on the back of the modem. That's it. It's also great that you don't need to take up a USB port.
Using PC World's broadband speed test I obtained download speeds of up to 7.7 megabits per second and 1Mbps when uploading while the modem had good reception. The speeds varied significantly depending on where we were; for example, one of my test results was 4.7Mbps/1.8Mbps when the modem also registered a good signal. When the modem registered poor reception I was still able to obtain speeds of 3.1Mbps down and 1Mbps up.
The ViViFi includes a simple Web-based interface for administration. It's actually one of the cleanest layouts I've seen for a network device interface.
The main problem I encountered with the ViViFi was reception. I had trouble getting a full signal while I was sitting at my cubicle, about five metres away from a window on the 21st floor of an office building. Of course, I used to have a seat with an actual view but Coca-Cola and Vodafone decided they needed nice new headquarters in front of it. And then I had to move floors and now I have a fantastic view of our Canon MFD.
When placed on the windowsill — right where the CIO editor enjoys a lovely view — the modem managed to achieve full reception. It was a similar story throughout our North Sydney office: Some places would get full reception, some partial, and some no reception at all. I also seemed to experience differing reception on different days in the same location.
I also tested the modem around the streets of North Sydney and in a number of inner-west pubs — a process for which I will be submitting some fascinating expense claims to the accounts department — and had similarly mixed experiences with signal strength.
A big plus of the ViViFi modem is its inbuilt Wi-Fi hotspot. You can connect up to five devices and share the connection. This makes it handy if you need to share the connection with a couple of colleagues while doing on-site work. The Wi-Fi range is not fantastic, however — vividwireless rates it as usable from up to 10 metres away, but I experienced a drop in speeds when I was about half that distance from the modem. Somewhat surprisingly given the lack of protruding antennas, I managed to get Wi-Fi reception while in a different a room from the modem.
Overall I have mixed feelings about the ViViFi: It's extremely compact, it's wonderful to be able to have such a small Wi-Fi hotspot and it's super-cute. However, I have some misgivings about the reception issues. It's perhaps not that surprising that such a small device would have trouble with obtaining a full strength signal. Another issue is that at least with mobile broadband that uses telcos' networks you have a 3G/2G fallback if you can't get a full HSPDA signal.
One also wonders about what sort of future devices like the ViViFi have. Smartphones are increasingly popular and most can easily act as modems, and even as Wi-Fi hotspots. Of course, this raises the issue of how much data people have on their phone plans as well as the problem of the abominable battery life of many handsets.
The vividwireless ViViFi retails for the reasonable price of $129; you can also get it for free by signing up to a 12-month plan. It comes with a 14-day money back guarantee, which I think is a big plus — you can get the modem and see what kind of speed you can get in the locations where you will be regularly using it. vividwireless offers both prepaid and postpaid data options.