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Phone-based mobile hotspots improving in speed, battery life

James Galbraith | Feb. 18, 2013
Our recent lab tests suggest that the mobile hotspots in new LTE phones compete well with dedicated mobile hotspot devices in performance and power efficiency.

Although the Motorola phone's video results fell short of its hotspot results by 4.5 hours, it still lasted longer than any other phone. The video results for the Nokia and HTC phones scaled pretty well with their hotspot results. The Samsung handset, however, ranked second in our video test but landed behind the Nokia and HTC in our hotspot test, which means that the hotspot feature on that phone is relatively less efficient. Also interesting is the fact that the test results for the Sony Ericsson phone were almost identical-that is, acting as a hotspot was just as taxing on that phone's battery as playing a high-definition movie file for nearly 7 hours.

Battery life:
Hotspot mode
Battery life:
Video streaming
Novatel MiFi 5792 (AT&T) 2900mAh 16 hours, 41 minutes n/a
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD (Verizon) 3300mAh 16 hours, 40 minutes 12 hours, 11 minutes
Nokia Lumia 822 (Verizon) 1800mAh 11 hours, 7 minutes 7 hours, 5 minutes
HTC Droid DNA (Verizon) 2020mAh 10 hours, 51 minutes 6 hours, 5 minutes
Samsung Galaxy S III (AT&T) 2100mAh 9 hours, 59 minutes 7 hours, 33 minutes
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play 4G (AT&T) 1500mAh 6 hours, 47 minutes 6 hours, 50 minutes

n/a = Not applicable.

Phones rival dedicated hotspot in data speeds

In our data-speed tests, the new LTE phones kept pace with the mobile hotspot in download speed, and exceeded the MiFi in upload speed.

The Xperia Play was sluggish, with a download speed of just 2.8 megabits per second and an upload speed of 1.0 mbps. Although the Xperia Play promises 4G performance, its AT&T HSPA+ service was simply unable to match the LTE speeds of the more recent devices we tested. The MiFi proved to be nine times faster than the Xperia Play, with download speeds averaging 25.2 mbps and uploads averaging around 10.6 mbps.

Across the recent phones, results were relatively flat. The Galaxy S III was the slowest, with 19.2-mbps downloads and 9.5-mbps uploads. The Droid Razr Maxx HD was the fastest among the phones in downloads, clocking in at 23.9 mbps, while the Lumia 822 posted the fastest average upload speed, reaching 13.9 mbps.

DeviceDownload speed (mbps)Upload speed (mbps)
Novatel MiFi 5792 (AT&T) 25.2 10.6
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD (Verizon) 23.9 13.6
Nokia Lumia 822 (Verizon) 21.8 13.9
HTC Droid DNA (Verizon) 21.4 12.3
Samsung Galaxy S III (AT&T) 19.2 9.5
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play 4G (AT&T) 2.8 1.0

Our test results suggest that recent smartphones do a respectable job as portable hotspots. Their batteries lasted long enough to survive through most workdays, and their data speeds were similar to those of the stand-alone Novatel MiFi. Notably, all of the LTE phones we tested were much closer to the MiFi in battery life and data speeds than the older, non-LTE Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.


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