The 6 Best Mobile WiFi Hotspots to Buy in 2016

The easiest way to stay connected while on-the-go

Today the Internet is our lifeline, so if we're not connected to it even when we're on-the-go, we feel like we're missing out. Thankfully, for road warriors and soccer moms alike, the advent of WiFi mobile hotspots has given us the ability to stay connected without utilizing our smartphone battery life, data or network. But how do you know which one is the best? We’ve narrowed down the top-rated mobile hotspot choices for any and all who might find themselves needing to keep with e-mail and Facebook while on the road.

1
Best Overall: Verizon Jetpack AC79IL

Verizon Jetpack AC79IL
Courtesy of Verizonwireless.com

Boasting 20 hours of battery life and the ability to connect 15 devices via WiFi signal at once, Verizon’s Jetpack AC79IL is the best choice for a mobile hotspot. Priced at around $50 with a two-year contract and around $200 retail, the pairing of Verizon’s superb nationwide network is hard to ignore when you need fast data on your laptop or tablet.  Add in the extra bonus of doubling as a charger for your smartphone on-the-go and you’ve got our best overall choice for mobile hotspots. Paired with Verizon’s network, data plans can range from 4GB for $30 up to 12GB for $70. Additionally, the Jetpack is also labeled as a world device so it’s capable of attaching itself to networks in more than 200 countries.

There’s nothing fancy about the 5.8-ounce pocket-sized design and the 1.77-inch TFT LCD offers enough information to be usable. The first Verizon hotspot to support LTE advanced, a faster version of the more traditional LTE network, this is handily the fastest mobile hotspot in Verizon’s arsenal. You’ll have connection access over 802.11ac via 2.4 or 5GHz with WPA2 encryption. Download speeds will be heavily dependent on the strength of Verizon’s network in your area, alongside other environmental factors that can play a role. When you consider its long battery life, fast performance thanks to LTE Advanced and strong world-wide coverage, the Jetpack is hands-down the mobile hotspot to beat.

2
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Netgear AT&T Unite Pro

Netgear AT&T Unite Pro
Courtesy of AT&T.com

If Verizon’s Jetpack AC79IL is King, then AT&T’s Unite Pro is vying for the throne. Like its biggest challenger, the Unite Pro is capable of 15 simultaneous connections, 16+ hours of battery life and of equal weight at 5.8 ounces. The Unite Pro also features LTE Advanced capability, but AT&T is not moving as fast at rolling out this new technology, so it doesn’t receive the same applause as Verizon’s option. Unlike the Jetpack, the 2.4-inch touchscreen is higher resolution and features a much easier navigational experience instead of the smaller display and buttons on the Jetpack. 

Setup is simple and easy, just power it up and follow the onscreen directions. Pairing the Unite Pro with AT&T’s network is around $50 with a two-year agreement and around $200 as a standalone purchase. Unfortunately, unlike Verizon’s offerings, AT&T offers just one data plan at $20 per month for 5GB of data. You can add additional data on to that usage per month for $10 per GB, but it’s a one-size-fits-all offering. It’s a little disappointing to see AT&T limit the amount of offerings available as we’d like to see larger buckets offered right from the start for better budgeting and planning. Price limitations aside, there’s some big advantages here over other AT&T options, specifically the dual-band (2.4 and 5GHz) offerings, as well as the lengthy battery life. It doesn’t have Verizon’s newer 802.11ac connection type nor does it feature the larger LTE Advanced network but it’s a worthy performer that is handily the best choice if you’re riding the AT&T train.

3
Best International: Huawei E5577Cs-321

Huawei E5577Cs-321
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Chinese telecom giant Huawei recently released a mobile WiFi hotspot that can take advantage of hexa-band 4G LTE in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Elsewhere, the device clocks in a respectable quad-band Mbps 3G. When using 4G, you can expect download speeds at an impressive 150Mbps and upload speeds at around 50 Mbps, making it quick and painless to send vacation pictures or work presentations while abroad. 3G download speeds hover around 42 Mbps, while upload speeds are just 5.76 Mbps.

 The hotspot runs on data purchased and stored on a SIM card, with 1G of data going for approximately $10. Set-up is easy. A LCD screen with helpful UI guides you through the process, and you just enter your access point number. Once activated, you can support up to 10 devices at once.

The device is compact and lightweight, easy to transport in a briefcase or even your pocket. The rechargeable battery lasts about six hours of working time, so you will want to consider bringing along an external power source if you are going to be away from outlets. Buy from Amazon »

4
Runner-Up, Best International: Skyroam

Skyroam
Courtesy of Amazon.com

While there’s plenty of support for U.S.-based carriers to work internationally, charges can add up very quickly. Enter Skyroam and lose the hassle of constant worry that you’ll return from a trip overseas to a bill that will have your jaw on the floor. Unlimited data? Check. Simple setup? Check. Essentially, you’ll receive 3G speeds while traveling in any of the 100+ countries supported, including those in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. The unit offers connection for up to five devices at one time, up to eight hours of battery life and currently includes three free unlimited day passes (a $30 value; after that it's $10 per day). Activation is simple, just take it out, turn it on and connect to the local contracted carrier as you travel from country to country.

Still, there are some caveats, as you’ll be limited to HSPA+ 3G speeds, which means no LTE (4G) support. Fortunately, for the daily pricing that’s a compromise we’ll make, begrudgingly. It’s true that your own data roaming plan with your U.S.-based carrier could offer higher speeds but that will come at a cost, and in some cases a much, much higher cost. The main caveat may be that after 350MB of high-speed data in any 24-hour period, you’ll be limited to a lighter, far slower 2G network. While grabbing email, checking Facebook and WiFi calling is tolerable over 2G, it’s definitely not something you’d want to rely on for downloading or uploading large spreadsheets.

You can also forget Netflix, YouTube or other streaming services – there’s no optimization here for that, which is pretty par for the course with most dedicated international hotspots. Alternatives like Keepgo will only offer you 1GB of data upfront, but refilling the device costs as little as $33 per GB. Once you consider that as the alternative, the Skyroam begins to look pretty great. That’s not say the daily $10 fee is inexpensive but the advantages of using it when you need it and only paying when you do outweighs the unknown cost of the competition. Buy from Amazon »

5
Best Data Only: Sprint’s Pocket WiFi

Sprint’s Pocket WiFi
Courtesy of Sprint.com

While Verizon loves to subjectively lay claim to the best network, when it comes to data only pricing, you’ll want the best possible value. For that, you’ll want to look at Sprint, which is charging ahead with a network revamp, refreshed marketing and a whole new approach to winning back customers. The $110 pricing for 30GB of data is hard to beat, especially when you evaluate Verizon’s pricing at $110 for 20GB of data. That extra 10GB offers around 33 percent more value for the dollar over the arguably best competitor in the marketplace. With up to 10 hours of usage and support for 10 WiFi connections, Sprint’s Pocket WiFi device is about as attractive as the rest of the marketplace. That is to say it’s a black rectangular style box that could resemble a box of cards when viewed from afar. There’s nothing particularly special about its hardware, but that’s not why you’re buying it.

It has support for Sprint’s LTE network, including “Sprint Spark,” which really pushes the gas on download speeds. There’s a 3G CDMA fallback option stateside but unfortunately, the device is locked out against global roaming. That’s a disappointing caveat compared to the competition, most of which offer international capability. It’s not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s something we’d love to see changed in the future. Still, the $0 down with a 24-month installment plan levels out at $7.50 per month for 23 months. In other words, Sprint is breaking up the $180 total value into 24 equal installments, or what is now commonplace industry wide instead of discounted two-year agreements.

6
Best Unlocked: Huawei’s E5770

Huawei’s E5770
Courtesy of Amazon.com

If you’re the traveling type and consistently find yourself moving country to country, sometimes you need a device that’s just as free-spirited as you are. Huawei’s E5770 is a premium unlocked WiFi mobile hotspot that’s available in both black and white. We’ll get the lone caveat out of the way and recognize that while this device is unlocked, it doesn’t support the 700MHz band in the United States. Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to use it stateside, but it does mean you won’t be able to take advantage of some of the best in-building coverage and fastest total speeds. That being said, there are plenty of other options on this list that are perfect for local use here at home.

The 5,200mAh battery lasts as long as 20 hours while connecting up to 10 simultaneous users. Aside from its sharp edges and good looks, the Huawei doubles as a power supply for other devices, including smartphones, tablets, music players and more via a USB connection. The real benefit with this unlocked device is the frequencies it does support. Overall, you should find more than enough connectivity options with the E5770 to justify its premium price tag. With a 4.5 out of 5-star rating on Amazon, there’s plenty of positive talk about its overall battery life, speedy connection and good looks. There’s no question the lack of 700 band accessibility is a disappointment, but the opportunity to swap SIMs on a whim as you move from country to country is a fair tradeoff.

As a key benefit here at home, it can double as a wireless range extender in your home or office. If you have a hard time with your main router reaching certain areas of the house, plugging the E5770 via Ethernet cable will help you boost your WiFi signal, no SIM or charges required. It’s a great way to repurpose this device when not in use for trips abroad. Buy from Amazon »

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