Option XYFI review: the personal hotspot with a difference

At first glance, the XYFI looks no different than a 3G dongle, which is partly true. When you plug it into your Windows or Mac PC it comes up with a request to install the driver allowing it to be used as a 3G dongle. However, you could rather use the USB to power it and set it up as a WiFi hotspot, allowing up to 8 devices to share its connection.

But the real draw of a portable hotspot is that it can be used without needing to be connected to a PC of any sorts. The XYFI has a few tricks up its sleeve here.

Accessories

The most important addition to the XYFI is the battery pack, which is about 8.5cm x 9.5 cm x 2cm.

On the front face is a row of LEDs that indicate the amount of power left. These are triggered by a button on the left side, above which sits the power button. On the opposite side of the buttons are a microUSB and regular USB ports for charging and fast charging.

The actual XYFI unit plugs into the top and then folds back neatly so that there aren’t any weird parts sticking out at odd angles.

Option claims that the battery pack allows for over 8 hours of connectivity and that was certainly close to our experience with it. Your mileage may obviously vary, depending on how many devices are connected to it and your usage patterns. Suffice to say that the XYFI’s battery pack gives it the best battery life we’ve seen from a portable hotspot.

If the battery pack isn’t enough, the XYFI also has a car adapter and a wall adapter, so you don’t have to unnecessarily drain that juicy battery pack.

All of these are designed quite stylishly, which adds some icing to an already wonderful cake.

Setup

Xyfi mobile interface
Xyfi mobile interface

Everything you need to setup the XYFI is right underneath one of the removable sides – default SSID, password, as well as the URL you’ll need to enter once connected to the XYFI. By default the XYFI has a fairly strong default password – ours had, what looked like, a randomly generated 8-character password. Of course, both the SSID and connection password are configurable once the XYFI is setup.

The first time you browse to the xyfi/ address in a browser, either on a PC or mobile device, you are asked to create your admin account for the device. After this, you’re logged in and let loose.

You may need to first change one or two things for your mobile network to get your Internet connection going, but this shouldn’t take long.

In short, everything you need to get the XYFI setup is within easy reach, it can be completed on any PC or mobile device with a browser; and it’s dead easy.

Web UI

The discussion about the XYFI’s Web UI comes in two parts – mobile and desktop.

On mobile, once you’ve logged in, you’re presented with a simple dashboard. Two tabs allow you to switch between your home and status views.

Below that are six icons which link to pages that let you change all the options relating to connectivity – from the SSID to user management. In the top right corner is a button to the user guide, with a button to the admin account management just to the left of it.

On the desktop front, you’re first presented with the status page. One click later and you’re at the settings page, but this time there’s a lot more reading to do than on mobile. The extra help text explains everything very clearly, but for the most part it’s unnecessary.

A puzzling choice with the desktop settings page is that settings are broken down into a lot of additional subgroups. For instance, instead of displaying all of the settings relating to “Mobile Networks” on one page (as in the mobile version), it’s broken down into six sub-pages. It also seems that not all the settings which are available on the desktop version are available to the mobile version.

Still, everything is logically placed and well-labelled, though it may require a few more clicks to do on a desktop what you can on a mobile device.

Option XYFI and peripherals
Option XYFI and peripherals

In use

The XYFI allows up to 8 devices to be connected to it – a fair amount for a road warrior. Regardless of the amount of devices we connected to it, the experience was always good. The XYFI handled multiple connections beautifully.

One of the handier tricks of the XYFI is that you can connect it to other Wi-Fi networks which it then prefers over its own 3G connection, and then it uses the 3G as a fail-over. This can be particularly useful if you don’t want to keep switching connections for each device.

On the accessories front, the car adapter gave us a little grief. A little wiggling, though, and everything was okay. The wall adapter performed exactly as advertised.

As we’ve mentioned before, the battery pack has extraordinary longevity, though it did seem to have a slight glitch with its power meter. A press of a button on the side lights them up, but the problem was that it reported a full charge after being on the whole day, and 45 minutes later it was down for the count.

Pricing

The XYFI and its accessories are each sold separately. The XYFI unit itself carries an RRP of R1,799, the battery pack will go for R899, and the car- and wall-adapters will retail for R349 each.

Those prices aren’t exactly cheap for this kind of product, but the versatility and quality are worth a few extra ducats.

Conclusion

The Option XYFI is a great take on a fairly stagnant line of products, though there are a few hiccoughs and the price isn’t in the impulse-buy range.

Still, if you’ve been looking for a good portable hotspot, the XYFI should be a top consideration.

Specifications

WLAN

  • 72 Mbps single stream 802.11n (In areas where WiFi coverage is available. Theoretical throughput based upon single stream 802.11n)
  • 802.11 b/g/n
  • Dual Mode AP and client operation
  • WPA, WPA2, WEP
  • WPS
  • 1-8 simultaneous users
  • Advanced NAT

3G (WCDMA)

  • 900/1900/2100 MHz
  • 850/1900/2100 MHz
  • Advanced receiver with equalizer
  • HSDPA: 14.4 Mbps (Category 10)
  • HSUPA:  5.76 Mbps (Category 6)
  • UE Power Class 3 (except Band II: Class 4)

E-GPRS

  • 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
  • GSM Power Class 4 (2W) for 850/900 bands
  • GPRS/EGPRS Multislot Class 12

Terminal Equipment Interfaces

  • USB 2.0 High speed (1.1 compatible)
  • Optional Device Drivers: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS (version 10.6 or later)

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Option XYFI review: the personal hotspot with a difference