I'm skeptical of mobile internet gadgets that promise anything more than a snail's-pace speed. But Virgin Mobile's MiFi 2200 Mobile Hotspot surprised me. In random places around New York City (er, that is, random bars in Brooklyn), the slim, tiny device kept me connected via its zippy 3G network.

It nearly made me regret buying the more expensive 3G-enabled iPad for my wife for Christmas. There's a compelling argument for buying the cheaper iPad and pairing it with a mobile WiFi hotspot (several are on the market). With Virgin's MiFi, up to five devices can connect to the same local WiFi network. Of course, that means five devices then compete for the already-modest signal.

The Virgin MiFi is clever and easy-to-use, and it's powerful enough for a single user. Even when switching locations, my laptop was back online in a jiffy. But it certainly didn't match the speed available through my home WiFi network, and it barely kept pace with the shared public network at my local coffeeshop bar. Still, if I were on the road more, I would consider making this my standard internet access. Even after paying upwards of $150 for the doohickey itself, and forking over $40 per month for the unlimited data plan, a few nights in an expensive paid-WiFi hotel may put you in the black.

My conclusion? If you travel a lot and you're thinking about the 3G iPad, get the 3G iPad—for the sake of simplicity. But if you're a busy laptop or netbook traveler who hates paying hotels for their precious signal, consider this swell little gadget.

Jeff Koyen is a freelance travel and culture writer, and the editor of Caveat Viator. Follow him on Twitter, @jeffkoyen.