This post was originally published in February 2015 and is based on six months of usage. There is a review of the newer model – the EE Osprey 2 here.
With the world getting more connected and people carrying larger and more powerful phones and computers around with them it feels that we need to be online the whole time. When it comes to our phones and some mobile connected tablets that is quite straightforward. The problem comes in with our laptops, non mobile connected tablets and other gear. You can choose to make use of dubious and spotty public wifi or try to carry your connection with you. If you want to bring your connection with you then you can try to use your phone as a hotspot or carry a dedicated device called a mifi.
Using your phone as a hotspot seems the simplest solution but it has several problems. Perhaps most importantly the mobile phone carriers restrict the ability to do this or only allow it under limited circumstances at an extra and prohibitive cost per megabyte. In addition your phone is usually restricted to a small number devices connected to it at once and it has a tendency to wear the battery down very quickly.
The final solution is to use a personal hotspot or mifi. This is a small battery operated device that creates a small wifi network and connects it to the net. The Osprey from EE is a perfect example of this. It is based on the Alcatel Onetouch Link Y855 rebranded and prettied up for the UK and EE.
The Osprey is a small plastic rectangular puck. It has smooth plastic over both large faces with a rubber grippy band around the outside. One flat side has a small LCD screen and an LED and the other has the EE logo. The four small sides of the Osprey have a microUSB charging port, a single rocker switch and a openable draw. This draw is where you can put in a micro SD card and the full size sim card. It also has the default wifi name and password written in.
To use the Osprey charge (or run via a mains USB charger or PC USB port) then push and hold the power button for a couple of seconds. The device switches on and connects to the mobile phone system and starts a small wifi network. Sign onto this wifi network with your device and have access to the internet. Up to 10 devices can join the wifi network at once and like any other wifi network depending on permissions they can see each other and communicate. I was able to get laptops, Chromebooks, phones, tablets, a Chromecast and a wifi enabled NAS working on the same network at the same time.
If you are using the Osprey for a single PC and are able to connect it via USB it will automatically install a driver that will allow Windows to treat it as a network connection over the USB. This is potentially battery saving for the mifi (as it will take power from the PC) and is very simple.
The battery is claimed to last for 6 hours of use but this will go up or down depending on the amount of use you are putting it to. I found this fairly accurate in real life getting about 5 hours intensive use without being plugged in before it gave me warnings.
The Osprey can also send and receive SMSs which can be written and read via the web interface. The LCD screen notifies you of new SMS but does not let you read them.
Size: 1.5 x 8.5 x 8.5 cm
Colour: Black with yellow trim or white with light green trim
Connectivity: USB, LTE, 3g, HSPCA
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 & 5 GHz) capable
Battery: 6 hours, 3000 mAh
To use a mifi you need a sim card with an active data plan. This could be prepay or as part of a contract and can either be purchased directly from EE or via a third party like Amazon. The Osprey is designed for use with EE sims but is usually unlocked which means that if the frequencies are correct it could be used with other networks. I’ve had numerous reports from readers and some have found the Osprey locked and some not. If it is locked it’s typically been easy enough to unlock via a code that costs a couple of pounds.
The Osprey has a small LCD screen on the front that shows its current status. It does this with white text on a black background. At the top of the screen is a line of icons that shows the current signal strength and connection type, if the wifi network is active and battery levels. If the Osprey is not connected is show the words “Not Connected” underneath these icons. The screen turns on briefly when the mifi is turned on and is reactivated for a few seconds whenever the power button is pushed.
At the top left of the front of the device is a small LED that shows green, orange or red depending on the charge status. If you are unable to distinguish these colors the screen also shows the same information.
If you are completely blind it is still possible to switch the Osprey on without reference to the screen. It is not as simple as it could be because the power button is part of a rocker button to set WPSs. If the Osprey is switched off you need to push and hold the power button for a second or two to switch it on. If you cannot visually see which end of the rocker switch is the power button the only real options are random chance or memorizing location – luckily pushing the wrong button does not do any harm.
The web interface is simple and adaptable with most of the information being in standard black text on a white background. Tabs are shown at the top of the screen with white text on a green background or black text on a yellow background. I tested it with a screen reader and while not optimised for the form it did work.
The EE Osprey mifi has no audio component.
Input and Touch
With the exception of the power button which requires a reasonable pressure for around a second to switch on there are no buttons on the Osprey.
Holding it it feels solid and heavier than its size would expect. The outer rubber band is grippy and makes it difficult to drop and gives a small amount of impact protection if you do drop it.
The web interface is simple and straightforward and has reasonable default settings.
Ease of Use
The hardest part of setting up the Osprey is understanding the different plans and costs that you can get plans for. It can cost anything from £15 a month for 3GB of data but be free hardware to £50 hardware but needing to buy data as you go. Once you have worked out what the best and most economic setup for you is the Osprey is simple to use. Switch it on and it is like any other wifi network except that it is secure and comes with you wherever you go.
If you are in the market for a mifi the Osprey is among the best possible choices currently available. It has been replaced on EE’s website with the Osprey 2 which has slightly faster internals but it is not a significant change. It is worth checking EE’s coverage in your area but assuming that it is reasonable the hardware is simple and solid. There are a couple of niggles – the choice to put the power on a rocker switch and the inclusion of a microSD card slot that seems to have no use but these are minor compared to the utility offered. Recommended.
The EE Osprey Mifi was released in October 2014 and is compatible with any wifi enabled device. The review is based on the a unit provided by EE.