Telstra's previous wireless hotspots — the inventively namedand looked broadly similar, offering up incremental technology upgrades within the same shell. You could tell they were hotspots, because they looked like them.
The Ultimate Wi-Fi hotspot doesn't. Without being powered on, it looks rather like one of those cheap bargain store portable games consoles that come with 30 different versions of Tetris on them. Where the Prepaid Hotspot lacked a screen and the Elite introduced a small display, the Ultimate ups the stakes with a larger multi-line display that includes signal strength, current Wi-Fi SSID and, by user choice, the current password for the network. The idea there is that you can easily show folks what the password is without having to write it down or read it aloud.
The Ultimate Wi-Fi shares technology with Telstra's other Ultimate product, the Ultimate USB Modem, in that it's a Dual-Carrier HSPA-capable device, which gives it a theoretical maximum of 42Mbps throughput speed. In the real world you're not likely to get that kind of speed, and even Telstra rates it for "between" 1-20Mbps in Dual-Carrier HSPA (DC-HSPA) areas; outside those areas you'll typically see between 550Kbps-8Mbps. As with all things wireless, variability is the name of the game.
The Hotspot itself can work as a USB tethered modem, but most folks will take advantage of its ability to pair up to five devices across an 802.11n network instead. Telstra rates the standard 1800mAh battery in the Ultimate Wi-Fi as good for up to four hours of connected use. Those who need additional power could invest in the optional AU$79 battery pack, which ups that to eight hours of claimed uptime.
As with Telstra's other hotspots, it's a little confusing working out which SIMs will or won't work in the Ultimate Wi-Fi hotspot. Telstra supplied us with a unit for testing alongside a business SIM (the consumer Ultimate Hotspot will come later), which works on a post-paid basis. The previous prepaid hotspots wouldn't work with post-paid consumer SIMs, but they would work with post-paid business SIMs. It seems as though Telstra likes you a little more if you're in a suit, essentially.
At the time of writing we're still waiting on exact clarification on which Telstra and BigPond SIMs will or won't work with the Ultimate Wi-Fi; in the meantime we'd advise checking carefully when purchasing to make sure it'll work with your SIM. Naturally, if you take a 24-month contract option, that won't be a concern at all, as it'll come with its own SIM.
Setting up the Ultimate Wi-Fi was a little more tricky than we've seen with other Telstra Hotspots, although that may have been a quirk of the unit Telstra supplied us with. The post-paid SIM had a PIN lock on it, so in order to set it up, we had to charge the unit, power it up, connect to it, log into its web interface to enter the PIN before we could do any surfing. This was set as the default, making it less pick-up-and-go than we'd typically like to see from a hotspot, although you can change this. You can also change whether it'll display the SSID password on the main screen, depending on your security tastes.
The Ultimate Wi-Fi has one oddity we've not seen on a hotspot before — it's noisy. An in-built tiny speaker chirps when the unit powers up, and again each and every time a device connects or disconnects from the hotspot. Again, it's user configurable if you don't happen to want a hotspot that sounds like R2-D2 on a drug trip.