There’s always a way to stay connected and online these days. The technology is always changing and improving, and mobile hotspots are as commonplace as Wi-Fi was a few years ago (not so long ago, come to think of it). There’s a trade off to technology that’s constantly being upgraded, though: consumer electronics are practically obsolete in a matter of months, so you have to choose well.
To be sure, smartphones may be used as hotspots for other devices, but the portability and efficiency of a separate device is often more appealing. Besides, you need your smartphone for essential functions like making calls and receiving text messages and emails. Afterall, a smartphone’s battery can only last so long.
Carriers offer mobile hotspot devices optimized for their service, which is why your carrier will factor into your choices. You have to find the best value in your choices, especially if they involve subscriptions with regular dues. That being said, mobile hotspot routers and services are conveniences with costs and upkeep to consider. It pays to find the device that best suits your needs and comforts. Here are my top 10 recommendations for mobile hotspots:
1. MiFi Liberate
If you’re with AT&T, you should consider the MiFi Liberate your first choice. The battery delivers you up to 10 hours of service for starters, enough for a road trip or a day at the beach (as long as your carrier covers the area, that is). You can take advantage of 4G LTE technology without skipping a beat, and the touchscreen interface offers convenient navigation.
2. Netgear Zing Mobile Hotspot
With its limited Wi-Fi range considered, Sprint’s Netgear Zing Mobile Hotspot compensates with plenty of features. The display allows for easy navigation, with a 2500mAh battery to back up the display. It’s a race to come up with the best LTE service nowadays, and although the carrier’s yet to take the lead, Netgear’s antenna ports and tri-band support makes up for the shortcoming.
3. Sonic 4G Mobile Hotspot
T-Mobile’s Sonic 4G Mobile Hotspot is a bit lopsided when it comes to features versus performance, but it still merits a spot as the carrier’s best offering. Apart from HSPA 42+ capability, it also allows users to share data stored in Micro SD over the Wi-Fi network. A serviceable OLED screen displays basic information on usage. The downside to these features is in the battery life, which is a deal-breaker in many ways. The signal also deteriorates beyond a limited range, so it’s best used in close quarters.
4. Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MHS291L
Battery life is a priority for many users, given that the device performs well in speed tests and reliability. This is where Verizon’s Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MHS291L shines, though a bit lackluster other than that. The battery lasts for almost 15 hours of use, and the data displayed on the OLED screen gives you a good grip of the status of your usage. LTE works well within a 50-foot range, but you’ll have to moderate your consumption with the carrier’s data rates. The Jetpack falls short of expectations in terms of portability, but is still the carrier’s best bet in mobile routers.
5. Freedom Spot Photon
The Freedom Spot Photon from FreedomPop is serviceable at the very least, and it’s offered almost free with your carrier’s subscription (an $89, refundable deposit). The free plan is also a sweet deal, with up to 500MB of monthly free data. You’ll have to pay $0.02 for every megabyte consumed afterwards, which is a fair deal if you only use mobile Wi-Fi on occasion. You’ll have upgrade to an LTE-compatible device once the service is available for the carrier, though.
6. Global International MiFi Hotspot
XCom’s Global International MiFi Hotspot is the best choice for international travel, offering an affordable alternative to the roaming charges that come with a mobile phone. You can use it in 44 countries, so there’s no need to switch carriers if you plan to stay indefinitely wherever you’re traveling. The connection isn’t as reliable, though, and it feels like you’re on dial up at times. Your usage is also limited with an eight-hour battery life, tops.
7. Tep Wireless Pocket Wifi
Tep’s Wireless Pocket Wifi is useful in selected countries (covered by the carrier), and it offers affordable access at $5 a day in the US. The rates will vary widely in different countries, and it gets confusing when you have to cover for charges you weren’t prepared for. It’s still an option if you’re traveling to countries with pricey mobile carrier rates, and you can use Skype or other VOIP service (with the hotspot) as alternative to calls and text messaging.
8. Samsung LTE Mobile HotSpot Pro
You can’t beat a hotspot that packs a nice battery pack, with enough juice to serve as a power bank for other devices. Samsung’s LTE Mobile HotSpot Pro offers exceptional 4G LTE connection with reliable battery life to boot. The device comes with a $169 price tag, but it is well worth the investment if you don’t want to compromise on performance.
9. Clear Spot 4G – Apollo
With several trade offs considered, Clear’s Spot 4G – Apollo compensates with unlimited data plans that are affordable and reliable. The device can service up to eight clients simultaneously, and you can’t complain about the battery life. The Apollo isn’t 3G or Wireless-N capable, and it’s without text messaging features. Still worth the investment if you’re subscribed to the carrier’s service.
10. Clear Spot Voyager
Clear’s Spot Voyager offers similar features to the Apollo, but it’s relatively compact and affordable. It has the same limitations, and there’s no sleep mode feature to conserve battery life. It’s still a serviceable hotspot for areas covered by the carrier.
This short list isn’t exhaustive and may not cover your carrier, but the variety should give you a good idea on the features that are both available and affordable. Consumer electronics are upgraded every few months, so it’s worth your trouble to consider the best devices you’re willing to pay for.