Several months ago, I purchased the T-Mobile 4G HotSpot to use when traveling. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to use the device and service on a few trips so I thought I’d provide a quick overview of the results of using it in real-life.
First, the T-Mobile 4G HotSpot is a ZTE data-only device (it might look like a phone, but it’s not). It connects to T-Mobile’s data network at up to HSPA+ speeds and then acts as a Wi-fi hotspot for up to 5 devices (I’m not going to get into whether T-mobile should be calling its HSPA+ device 4G or not).
Overall, I’ve been happy with it, for my purposes. Here a few high points:
- Easy to set-up and use, no software or hardware dongles required
- Battery life is good
- When the speed is good, it’s really good (you forget you’re on wireless)
- Pre-paid, no-contract options
- It’s small and travels well
The only downside I would cite is that it can be slow at times (sometimes speed drops for no apparent reason). The cost and data-caps might also be a concern for some, but it hasn’t been a major issue for me. Coverage, so far has not been an issue for me either. I’ve been able to get a signal everywhere I’ve wanted one. But it is T-Mobile, so check their maps to see if it looks like they serve the areas you need.
I wanted a no-contact option because I wasn’t sure how often I’d use it and I didn’t want to get into a long-term monthly bill for something I wasn’t using. This meant I had to pay more up front for the hardware, $130 ($119 at Amazon Disclaimer: affiliate link) instead of $60 with a contract. It also meant the buying experience was, um “challenging” – to be kind. Because the incentives are different, T-Mobile runs the prepaid/no-contract and subsidized/on-contract businesses separately. The T-mobile stores don’t carry and don’t support the no-contract devices or service. I ended up getting the device at Bestbuy and that was comical because if I didn’t have a smartphone with the Bestbuy website up, showing the SKU and that the store I was physically in sold the product and had it in stock, the “expert staff” would have sent me away saying they don’t even sell that product. I had to explain to them that I could click “Buy Now for in-store pick-up” and walk over and pick up the device, so it’s in the store somewhere. I finally found a manager who actually looked and found the item “in the back” (and they had many of them of course).
Bestbuy also sells the prepaid cards to activate data service; or you can purchase online, using the device itself. T-Mobile offers a $30 recharge providing 1GB data or a $50 recharge with 3GB – both options are active for one month and allow up to five simultaneous wi-fi connections.
When we stay in a hotel that charges $20 per day for wi-fi, it often makes more sense to just buy a month of the T-Mobile service, which we can then use with all our devices at the same time and the performance is often just as good – and we could, if we wanted, use it in more places (like at the airport when waiting for flights etc.)
I also wanted a device that was independent of the type of device and operating system. I didn’t want a USB modem or something that required software drivers. We’ve connected with laptops, iPads, and other devices at the same time and had no trouble connecting to the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot. The only problem we’ve had so far was once the device got weird and wouldn’t turn on and I had to pull the battery for a few minutes to correct that problem, but otherwise it has been pretty painless.
I now take it with us every time we travel, along with a recharge card that we only activate if we really need it. It’s nice not to worry whether we’ll find a hotspot or free wi-fi or whether the hotel Internet is going to work etc.
If you’re looking for a no-contract option for mobile data when traveling, the T-Mobile 4G HotSpot is certainly a reasonable choice that I’m pretty happy with.