Getting access to high-speed internet on the go doesn’t have to mean using someone’s wide-open Wi-Fi. There are plenty of great 3G and 4G hotspots that get the job done, don’t cost an arm and a leg, and are small enough to keep in your pocket for when you need them. Whether you’re on the road or cable’s out at home, here are five of the best mobile hotspots to keep you connected.
Earlier in the week we asked you for your favorite mobile hotspots, ideal for traveling, emergency internet access when your primary provider is out of commission, connecting multiple devices, or just helping you stay connected whenever you need it. We’ve shared some of our favorite mobile hotspots, and how to pick the best one. This time you offered up some great nominations, and here are your top five:
The Karma Hotspot is a tiny, pocket-sized, pay-as-you-go mobile hotspot that doesn’t come with too many bells and whistles, but it does offer fast mobile data when you need it, either at home when the cable goes out or when you’re on the go and can’t find a Wi-Fi network to use. Karma Hotspots come pre-loaded with 1GB of data on your account, and as you use it up, you recharge it with more data—that data never expires, and you have no monthly fees or charges to deal with—once you’ve paid for it, you don’t pay again until you run out of data. When it’s time to recharge, 1GB of data is $ 14, and you add as much as you need. The hotspot itself is $ 99. You can even earn free data (100MB for them and 100MB for you) by encouraging your friends to join your Karma’s Wi-Fi network—kind of a bonus for being social and telling other people about it.
Karma supports up to eight devices simultaneously. It rides Sprint’s (technically Clear’s) 4G WiMax network with 3G (Sprint) roaming, and offers coverage in over 80 cities in the United States. The boast speeds of around 3-6 Mbps down on average (bursting to 10 Mbps) and 1.5 Mbps up. You can check what their coverage is like for you here before signing up. The device itself packs about 6-8 hours of battery life built-in, and charges over microUSB, so you can just plug it in and keep working if you’re somewhere with power.
FreedomPop made waves with its completely free internet (with conditions, of course) when it launched. Their mobile hotspots do offer you 500MB of data every month for free, and if you need more from there their pricing isn’t terrible—they offer you 2GB for $ 18/mo, or 4GB for $ 29/mo, and any extra data beyond what you use is $ 0.01/MB ($ 0.02/MB if you’re on the free plan.) There are other fees involved, especially if you want to roll over your data every month ($ 4/mo) and there’s been debate over the company’s “active service fee,” another monthly charge that’s supposedly going away. The Overdrive Pro hotspot itself is $ 60, supports up to eight devices at once, and has an LCD display on the front to help you keep an eye on how much data you’re using in real time. The battery lasts about four hours before it needs to be plugged in to power, and the company promises speeds as fast as 6Mbps on average, bursting up to 25Mbps where available. Unlike other pay-as-you-go providers, you can rack up the overages if you go over your monthly allowance, so it’s important to choose the plan that fits you out of the gate—and the “free trial” may not work for everyone.
FreedomPop’s approach to itself is a little smarmy sometimes, forcing you to hand over your email address and walk through the process of signing up before learning enough about the product to determine if you really want it. Still, there are enough reviews of the service around the web (including ours linked above!) that there’s plenty to check out to see if it’s right for you before you buy. The service rides Sprint’s (technically Clear’s) 4G WiMax network with 3G roaming (Sprint), and don’t be confused by their at-home internet and cellular plans—stick to the mobile data side of things to find what you need. Some people report coverage issues, so check before you sign up. Read more in the nomination thread here.
Verizon’s Jetpack has earned high praise from reviewers including The Wirecutter and PCMag. The Jetpack itself is a pocket-sized device (available in multiple models-we’re talking about the Pantech MHS291L model) that supports dual-band wireless N, and of course, rides Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network. If you’re worried about coverage, it shouldn’t be an issue in this case. It even works abroad, in over 205 countries. If price is your primary concern however, you may want to look at the details. Verizon Wireless doesn’t offer pay-as-you-go or free plans, and while the Jetpack itself can be obtained for free depending on where you get it (currently it’s $ 50 from Verizon, but you can get it for free from Amazon), the real price is the two-year contract and mobile data plan you’ll have to sign to get it at that rate. Verizon Wireless does have data-only plans for those devices, but there’s no roll-over data, and there are overage fees if you eat too much. However, Verizon does let you adjust your plan at any time if you’re having a data-heavy month, or drop down if you’re in for several light-usage months. ou can get it contract free ($ 230 direct from Verizon, $ 300 at Amazon) and pay month-to-month for data if you prefer, and given Verizon’s fast, ever-present network, it may be worthwhile.
Verizon’s network is reliable and broadly available, and they note you should expect typical download speeds of between 5 Mbps and 12 Mbps and typical upload speeds between 2 Mbps and 5 Mbps when using your Jetpack. The Jetpack itself has an LCD status screen on it so you can keep an eye on your data usage, and while it’s not the only Jetpack model available, it’s the one that everyone adores. You can connect up to 10 devices to a Jetpack at once, and it packs a rechargeable battery that can last for up to 15 hours before needing to be plugged in or recharged. It even supports USB tethering and built-in GPS geolocation, and HD video streaming. Read more in its nomination thread here.
Internet on the Go is a mobile hotspot offered by Walmart (in partnership with TruConnect Mobile, an MVNO on Sprint’s 3G (not 4G, although they say it’s coming soon) network. Internet on the Go hotspots (made by Novatel) are about the size of a credit card, slip in a pocket, and have a single power button to note whether they’re on or off. It’s a pay-as-you-go service, with $ 10 getting you 500MB to use, $ 25 for 1.5GB, and $ 45 for 3GB. The hotspot itself will set you back $ 80 at Walmart online or in-store. You can also check to see if your area is covered on the product page at Walmart.com, or check out the coverage map here. Purchased data never expires, and when you run out, you reload it with however much data you need.
The Internet on the Go hotspot supports up to five devices at once and can be purchased with a wealth of optional accessories to help you make the most of it, like external battery packs and car chargers. Alone, its rechargeable battery lasts about 4 hours before it needs to be plugged in to power, and the service promises download speeds of about 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps, peaking around 3.1Mbps. Average uploads are around 350-500 Kbps, peaking at about 1.8 Mbps. To be clear, the Internet on the Go service is 3G only, and aimed at people who need to check email, chat with friends, browse the web, keep up with news or social media, and so on—don’t expect to do too much HD streaming or get a ton of throughput here, and the folks behind it don’t advertise their service as such. They angle themselves primarily for users of laptops, tablets, and ereaders looking to perform basic tasks online. Read more in the nominations thread here.
Your Smartphone or Tablet
Of course, you likely already have a 3G/4G enabled smartphone or tablet on you at all times, and almost every smartphone or tablet made in the past five years has the ability to share your cellular internet connection via Wi-Fi with other devices in the vicinity. Some phones call it “mobile hotspot,” others call it “tethering,” but almost every device either supports it in some fashion or has apps available that allow you to easily configure a portable Wi-Fi network on the go (with, or without the express permission of your mobile data provider.) It’s much easier on Android than it is in iOS, but it’s possible on both. Some carriers let you do it without hassle, others will try to stop you and charge you for the privilege if they catch you doing it.
In either event, using your phone as a quick hotspot is a great idea—if you know how, it’s a simple matter of activating the tether, connecting your phone to whatever device you want to have internet access, either via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or USB, and then sharing out your high-speed mobile data with those devices. It’s fast, easy, can be free, and uses equipment you already have. Unfortunately, it does have drawbacks—you chew through battery on your smartphone very quickly when you use it as a mobile hotspot, and you also can chew through your monthly allocation of mobile data. If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, that can cut your tethering time short. Most people agree – it’s great for sporadic or emergency use, and even semi-regular use if you don’t otherwise eat a lot of data, but if you have real mobile broadband needs or have to tether often, it’s better to get a device that’s designed for it and a carrier, plan, or pay-as-you-go plan that meets your needs. Read more in the nomination thread here.
Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all out vote to determine the community favorite:
No honorable mentions this week, but plenty of other nominees in the call for contenders thread so make sure to head back there if you want to see more.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at email@example.com!