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Two personal Wi-Fi hotspots: Different strokes for different folks

Barbara Krasnoff | March 11, 2013
Two Wi-Fi mobile hotspots offer very different services: The Verizon Wireless JetPack is fast but pricey while the FreedomPop Photon is limited but free.

You can make additional changes to the hotspot settings via a Web-based interface on your computer -- for example, you can change the times for the device's automatic shutdown or decide how long the JetPack's display stays lit.

Besides the LED and controls, the top of the black JetPack is edged by a bright red illuminated ring that indicates when the device is on or being powered. Like the Photon, the JetPack is powered by a micro USB connection; unlike the Photon, the battery is accessible by opening up the bottom.

The JetPack uses Verizon's very speedy 4G LTE network (and can use 3G where that isn't available), so you shouldn't find yourself without Wi-Fi almost anywhere in the U.S.

Price and plans

The price of the JetPack and its associated plans, of course, fit the convenience they offer. The JetPack itself costs $19.99 with a new two-year activation; without a contract, the price goes up to $199.99.

What you pay after that depends on how much data you plan to use; prices start at $30/month for 4GB of data and then go up by increments of 2GB and $10 until you hit 12GB a month for $70. And add to that a $20 monthly access fee. If you go over your allotted monthly allowance, you pay $15 per 1GB.

Bottom line

If I were choosing my Wi-Fi hotspot just by feel and style, I'd go for the FreedomPop Photon. It doesn't offer any of the bells and whistles that the JetPack does -- it uses LEDs to give you the status of your connection, and that's pretty much it -- but I like my hotspots as simple and lightweight as possible, and the JetPack's larger hockey-puck look just doesn't appeal. On the other hand, the JetPack's display gives you access to a lot of useful information, such as how much data you can still access before you run past your plan, which is always nice to know.

And there's no question that the Verizon Wireless JetPack, with its access to very fast 4G LTE and to Verizon's very substantial network, is going to win for speed and convenience. Tests using the Android version of Ookla's Speedtest.net resulted in maximum upload/download speeds of about 11Mbps/29Mbps, while the FreedomPop Photon tested at upload/download speeds of 1.6Mbps/11Mbps.

2 Wi-Fi hotspots: Performance

 
 

Tests performed using Ookla's Speedtest.net. Result shown is maximum of 4 tries.

2 Wi-Fi hotspots: Prices

 
 

FreedomPop's Clearwire network is currently much more limited in terms of geographical coverage and, because it's WiMax rather than LTE, it's not nearly as fast. But if you're a casual user, the cost of using Verizon's network may give you pause. If you live in an urban area, and only need the occasional Wi-Fi connection, the Photon may just suit your needs.

 

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