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Cherry Mobile MF1 WiFi Hotspot Phone | Review

How much is an open-line personal WiFi hotspot device these days from, say, Huawei or ZTE? Five thousand? Perhaps three thousand for a low-cost nameless unit?

Well, how about a hotspot that’s a phone… for just two thousand pesos?

That’s what Cherry Mobile gives you with its innovative Cherry Mobile MF1 phone. Yes, it’s first and foremost a phone. But who needs another cheap phone? No, Cherry got smart by marketing it as a WiFi Hotspot device. And it does make more sense pitching it this way.

Cherry Mobile MF1

The looks

The MF1 is one tiny phone. How tiny? You know that jeans change pocket–you know, the one where the original iPod nano was supposed to be slipped into? Well, it can fit snugly in there.

Fits into that tiny pocket

In fact, it was way more comfortable to carry around than my old WiFi hotspot device. This thing can get lost in your pants pocket among your keys and change and stuff. And it’s so feather-light.

In the looks department, the MF1 does well for a cheap feature phone. The color scheme (it comes in red or black) is nicely done, and it’s actually reminiscent of those old Bosch car audio equipment.

The bottom part of the phone can be snapped off, revealing its USB plug which, on the whole, makes the phone look even tinier, like an oversized USB drive. Well, it is after all also a USB modem. Yes, it’s a hotspot and a 3G USB “stick” in one. Choose your poison.

Look, it's a USB modem!

So the Cherry Mobile MF1 passes the looks test with decent colors. I’ve had people comment on how cute the phone is, and they’re pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s a Cherry Mobile (because, you know, people tend to discriminate against low-cost brands). I don’t blame them because Cherry Mobile could use a whole lot of improvement in the packaging department. Especially on the design of their boxes and bags. I so hate their boxes and bags.

At any rate, the next question now is, how does it feel when actually used?

The feel

I am not going to review this unit as a phone. Because it’s pointless. Because you won’t get this device for use as a phone. You’ll use it as a 3G stick or personal hotspot device. So I will review it as a mobile broadband device instead.

First off, the keys. The downside to having a tiny form factor is that the keys are quite difficult to attack. It doesn’t help that the keys are a bit too firm, making key presses an ordeal. Cherry, it would help to have a keypad that requires a little less pressure.

So it’s a good thing that you won’t be using this as a phone then (I assume), because texting would have been an ordeal.

Now what about the user interface experience?

The user interface

If you’re as picky about design as our dear Editor King Jason is, you’d be shaking your head at the pathetically uninspired graphics on the phone, graphics that look over a decade old. Then again, nobody pays attention to UI design when it comes to cheap phones, so I guess the proper response to this is to just shrug. Which is also probably what Cherry Mobile is doing.

Is it easy to use? Well… Let’s put it this way: I survived without having to even open their tiny, cheaply printed manual. But it was still a bother.

It was a bother because if Cherry Mobile really wants to push this phone as a WiFi hotspot, then the least they could do is to make its hotspot feature easy to access. As it is, you need to wade deep into its menu system before you can activate the hotspot. Click Menu, then scroll right to Settings, then Connectivity, then Internet Tethering… and only then can you click on WLAN Hotspot to set it to On.

The performance

Once you have the MF1 on hotspot mode, however, it’s nearly all smooth sailing from there. The phone is open-line, so you can toss in whatever SIM card you have which you can get broadband out of. The MF1 does 3G, HSDPA and HSDPA+. Nice.

The downside: you may need to tweak the 3G settings first. I tossed in a Sun broadband SIM card and it fortunately worked without any further tweaking needed. But later on, it dropped from HSDPA to just 2G, which was a drag. And it was stuck at 2G for quite some time. So I had to go online to check what the settings ought to be for Sun broadband. I experimented with changing the APN from blank to “Minternet” and to “Fbband” but still no luck.

In the end, I think it was a Sun issue more than anything else because right now I’m in Malaysia, where I bought a 2GB 3G card and stuck it into the phone… and there is absolutely no problem whatsoever. I get 3G consistently everywhere. If you’re traveling out of the country, the MF1 can be a handy companion alright.

The battery

Here’s why the promise of a phone-that’s-a-hotspot excited me: it made me hopeful that, because this is a phone, the battery life would last me a day. Imagine that: a personal WiFi hotspot that will last an entire day!

Unfortunately, reality sucks. The MF1 will only go for a couple of hours as a WiFi hotspot before needing a recharge. The reason: the battery is one tiny critter that’s rated at a paltry 430mAH. Next time, Cherry, please make a hotspot phone that will actually last longer than a typical hotspot device.

Fortunately, if you have a portable battery pack with you, this plays nicely because you can actually plug the phone directly into the charger’s USB port. Or even directly to your laptop.

Plugged into a laptop

The Verdict

All in all, this is one amazing device to have for its very low price point. Can you consider this as a substitute for getting a dedicated WiFi hotspot device? I say yes, provided that you also have a portable battery pack with you. It’s cheap, it’s very light, it looks good (ignoring the screen interface), and it does what it’s supposed to do… albeit not in the easiest of ways. I’m pretty happy with it. You may be too.

Cherry Mobile MF1 WiFi Hotspot Phone

SRP: Php 1,999

Available at Cherry Mobile stores

Likes

  • A real personal WiFi hotspot device in a tiny form factor!
  • Incredibly cheap for what it does
  • Versatile: it’s a battery-powered hotspot, or a USB 3G dongle
  • Again, it’s so tiny!

Dislikes

  • Ancient-looking and difficult-to-navigate user interface
  • Battery life: just about two hours tops
  • Keys are kind of tough to press
Art

Art

Art is a long-time editor for a number of technology publications. He is a Palanca-winning writer (he got lucky) whose day job is to try to be as serious as possible while being a management consultant and lecturer. His favorite noodles: chapchae.

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    • Jorem|

      wow what a letdown. I thought it was a genius idea when I found this article but upon reading the verdict, the battery life is a dealbreaker. the thing I liked most about this whole idea is when you are using a prepaid sim and you want to register to an internet promo, you can do it on your hotspot since it is a phone after all, unlike in other hotspot devices. oh well, better stick to USB tethering or wifi hotspot with my android phone :)


    • The battery life nga ang downer.

      One more thing. At least for my unit, take out the battery and you have to re-set the date and time. That’s such a bother. One more dislike!


    • I had this but I sold it after three weeks coz hotspot will only last for merely 100 mins and the charging time is almost two hours. gooduck patience


    • pataguila|

      Bought this back in December. Lasts me around 3 hours as a Wi-Fi hotspot on a single charge, which I think is more than enough for mobile browsing when I’m not in the office or at home. When I do use it longer, I just plug it into my laptop. Pretty good for 2k when I was already willing to buy a Huawei device for double the price. :)


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