I’m not a big fan of most wireless carriers, based on my recent poor experiences with AT&T. But Verizon really surprised me. Knowing I was going on vacation, they offered me a MiFi for the trip. Full disclosure: Verizon lent it to me, no strings or fees attached, and I returned it early this week.

I’d seen the various wireless sticks from carriers at different conferences, but the MiFi was new to me. It connects to Verizon’s 3G network and up to five devices can use the MiFi at any given time. It’s a little wifi hotspot. And I do mean little. It’s about the length and width of a credit card, but slightly deeper - maybe like 6 credit cards sitting on each other. It’s tiny, thin, and fit into my purse.

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I played around with the MiFi at home before I left and I used the AC adapter while I was at home. I successfully connected 4 laptops and my iPhone on the network and the speed and service didn’t seem to degrade. The created network is also secure, which is nice. “My” MiFi had the security code on the bottom. I don’t know if that was just my sample device or if they all do that. If so, you might want to rip off that little sticker if you buy one, just in case.

Connecting was easy. Because this particular MiFi had already been activated, I pretty much just had to press the Power Button and that’s it. It functioned perfectly while connected to my Mac, my PCs, and my iPhone.

I think they had in mind that I’d blog on vacation, and indeed I meant to. However, I was so exhausted every night that I sort of fell into bed. But I used the MiFi for other things. When they first gave it to me, I admittedly didn’t have high hopes. I was traveling to Alaska and taking a cruise. There was just no way this would work and I figured it would end up with an average review.

The day before my trip, I had a huge deadline that involved uploading a number of large PDFs and Windows Help Files to my FTP server for a client. Our flight had a brief layover in Salt Lake City and I powered up my iPhone and checked my email, only to discover that there was an error in my files. This necessitated breaking out the laptop and changing both the Help files and the PDFs, and then uploading them to my server again. I made the changes and broke out the MiFi. I easily and surprisingly quickly uploaded those files. I was impressed with the speed, considering how large my files were. Later that night, in Anchorage, I quickly checked my email with the MiFi and even managed to invoice my client (always important).

We left Anchorage a few days later and headed to coastal Seward on the Alaska Railroad. Just for kicks, I pulled out the MiFi again. For a good 70% of that train ride, I managed to have service through the MiFi, so I tweeted away from my iPhone. If you’ve ever taken that train route, you know that 70% is impressive. A good portion of Alaska is untouched by cell towers and people, which is why it is still so beautiful. In coastal Seward, we didn’t have any problem with the MiFi service, nor did we when we were docked in any port of call from Alaska down through Vancouver. Perhaps the most impressive part to me, and this was when I expected the MiFi to fail, was when we were tendered at Icy Strait Point - otherwise known as the middle of nowhere - with whales diving nearby and the cruise ship sort of in the middle of the ocean semi-close to the shore. I had service. I kid you not, I was able to research Vancouver wineries from my laptop as I sat on the deck of the ship in the middle of ocean-y nowhere, using the MiFi.

I am 100% sold on Verizon’s service. Does this mean I’m getting a Verizon phone since my iPhone contract expires any day? Well, not yet. Although I suspect some folks at Verizon are going to make it sort of a mission to show me their phones can compete with Sprint’s Palm Pre, we’ll see. I may be sold on their service, but their handsets still have something to prove.

The MiFi, on the other hand, was amazingly handy and quick. I’m considering purchasing either a MiFi or a stick (for one computer) to use at all the conferences I attend. Plus, it would be nice to go to any coffee shop instead of just one when I need to get out of the house.

You can get the MiFi online for $99 with a 2-year contract. The catch is that it’s not unlimited data. Service costs $59.99/month for a 5GB plan or a more limited plan (roughly 7-8 hrs per month) for $39.99. That sort of caught me by surprise. I’ve gotten accustomed, you see, to unlimited data and 5GB per month isn’t a lot for someone like me. This, however, was a pretty sweet toy and unlike a lot of my gadgets, it was actually useful.

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Cheers!

Tweet Michelle @writetechnology, send her technology news at michelle[at]writetech[dot]net, visit her wine blog when you’re thirsty, and drop by her day job.

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