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Review: 5 prepaid mobile hotspots fire up business travel

Brian Nadel | Jan. 26, 2016
Fed up with mediocre Wi-Fi on the road? For not-so-frequent travelers, a pay-as-you-go personal hotspot might be the answer. We put five to the test.

T-Mobile's 4G LTE HotSpot Z915 has cheap data plans and includes Canadian and Mexican coverage, making it a good option for those who travel north and south of the border. Unfortunately, it's the least portable of the five, and during testing, T-Mobile's network had the longest latency period of the group.

Tiny and light, Verizon's Ellipsis Jetpack MHS800L is the most portable of the five hotspots, and it's tied for cheapest. It has an excellent network behind it, but its data is expensive at the low end, so it's really aimed at those who travel a lot.

That leaves AT&T's Unite Express, which at $80 is cheap enough, and in my tests offered the best network performance in every category. While its setup procedure could only have been devised by the Inquisition and there are no daily or weekly data plans, it offers the best mix of economy, throughput and coverage. When I travel I want it in my bag.

5 personal hotspots: Features

 

AT&T Unite Express for GoPhone

Boost Mobile Netgear Fuse

Karma Go

T-Mobile 4G LTE HotSpot Z915

Verizon Ellipsis JetPack MHS800L

Dimensions

4.4 x 2.7 x 0.6 in.

4.4 x 2.7 x 0.6 in.

2.9 x 2.9 x 0.5 in.

4.2 x 2.6 x 0.7 in.

3.1 x 2.2 x 0.5 in.

Weight

4.5 oz.

4.5 oz.

2.8 oz.

5.1 oz.

2.7 oz.

Maximum number of users

10

10

8

10

8

Screen

1.7-in., color

1.7-in., color

No screen

1.9-in., monochrome

0.9-in., monochrome

Indicators for signal strength/battery/data usage

Yes/Yes/No

Yes/Yes/Yes

Yes/Yes/No

Yes/Yes/Yes

Yes/Yes/Yes

External antenna ports

2 ports

2 ports

No

No

No

Flash card slot

No

No

No

No

No

Device price

$80

$50

$149

$110

$50

Plan prices

$25 (2GB/mo.); $50 (5GB/mo.); $75 (8GB/mo.)

$25 (1.5GB/mo.); $50 (10GB/mo.)

$14 (1GB); $59 (5GB); $99 (10GB)*

$5 (500MB/day); $10 (1GB /week); $30 (3GB/mo.) to $70 (11GB/mo.)

$15 (250MB/week), $60 (3GB/mo.), $90 (10GB/mo.)

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

* Data does not expire

5 personal hotspots: Performance results

 

AT&T Unite Express for GoPhone

Boost Mobile Netgear Fuse (on Sprint network)

Karma Go (on Sprint network)

T-Mobile 4G LTE HotSpot Z915

Verizon Ellipsis JetPack MHS800L

Download speed (avg.)

15.0Mbps

5.9Mbps

4.2Mbps

11.9Mbps

12.7Mbps

Upload speed (avg.)

10.2Mbps

2.9Mbps

5.1Mbps

3.1Mbps

5.5Mbps

Latency*

45.7ms

48.9ms

79.9ms

90.4ms

51.6ms

Battery life (hr:min)

8:35

8:50

4:35

7:50

12:45

Wi-Fi range

75 ft.

80 ft.

110 ft.

85 ft.

85 ft.

* For latency, lower numbers are better; for all other results, higher numbers are better.

How we tested

To see how these mobile hotspots compare, I used each of them every day for a month in a variety of situations for work and play. On top of using them for daily Web excursions, I watched online videos as well as live sporting events, listened to Internet radio, posted material to a website and downloaded files.

 

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