Netgear Zing review: Excellent mobile router if you can get Sprint 4G

Full-access touch screen, robust Web interface, and a capable mobile app

The Zing has a robust and easy-to-use Web interface.
The Zing has a robust and easy-to-use Web interface. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Mobile routers with touch screens aren't new, but the Zing brings this to a new level. The device's screen doesn't just show the router's status and settings, but also provides a place to customize all of its settings and features. On the home screen, you can quickly view the number of connected Wi-Fi clients, the amount of data that's been used, the battery life, and so on. You can dig deeper via five buttons: Devices, Wi-Fi, Settings, Billing Cycle, and Session.

Each of these buttons leads to more functions or settings that you can customize. The Devices button, for example, shows you the connected devices' IP address and MAC address, and you can also block or unblock them if need be.

Obviously, you can only use the Zing's touch screen if you have it in your hand; when it's out of reach, you can also customize it via the Web interface. This is especially convenient for those using a laptop or desktop computer. You can access the interface by pointing a browser from a connected computer to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1 (the default password is "password"). Here you'll find the items and settings are organized similarly to on the touch screen.

The Zing supports the basic settings of a regular router, such as port forwarding, port filtering, UPnP, and so on. There's one unique feature: you can create a secondary Guest Wi-Fi network in addition to the main Wi-Fi network. Devices connected to the Guest network can connect to the Internet but can't talk to one another or to those connected to the main Wi-Fi network. Since the router supports a maximum of 10 concurrent Wi-Fi clients, you can also choose the number of clients allocated to either network. For example, you could make it so 7 clients can connect to the main network and 3 can connect to the guest network.

The app provides a convenient way to monitor the router's status and customize its settings.
The app provides a convenient way to monitor the router's status and customize its settings. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Unlike other mobile routers, the Zing has another way for you to manage it: via mobile app. The app is called Netgear AirCard, and it's available for both iOS and Android devices. Using this app, you can manage the router similarly to using the Web interface, but a lot more conveniently if you're on a mobile device.

Performance
The Netgear Zing wasn't the fastest mobile router I've seen, but most likely this is because at the time of the review, Sprint hasn't officially launched its 4G LTE service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet, the Zing -- like the MiFi 500 LTE -- was able to pick up full 4G LTE signal in many parts of the city. And in my testing, it was much faster than the MiFi 500 LTE and much more reliable. Speeds of both download and upload were generally stable and averages around 6.1Mbps and 3.5Mbps for download and upload, respectively. Compared with other mobile routers from other carriers that I've reviewed, these were still below average, however.

Note that this is what I experienced in the Bay Area. As with all mobile routers, cellular Internet speed varies a great deal depending on where you are and sometimes even on the time of the day. So you might get totally different numbers where you are. However, after a few days of testing, I believe the Zing delivers the best of what Sprint has to offer.

4G cellular Internet speed (in Kbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Upload  
Download  
Novatel MiFi Liberate
8,923 
11,232 
Jetpack 4G LTE 890L
8,254 
10,069 
Novatel Jetpack MiFi 4620L
9,845 
10,047 
Samsung 4G LTE SCH-LC11
7,398 
9,417 
Clear 4G+ Apollo
3,313 
9,235 
Clear Spot Voyager
2,259 
7,393 
T-Mobile Rocket 3.0
2,440 
6,729 
Netgear Zing
3,174 
6,656 
T-Mobile 4G Mobile
1,850 
3,568 
T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile
1,205 
3,038 
Sprint MiFi 4082
947 
2,529 
Verizon Fivespot (3G)
700 
1,300 

As a mobile Wi-Fi router, the Zing was excellent, offering very good range and a stable Wi-Fi signal. Though Netgear only claimed 10 hours for it, I was able to get more than a day out of the battery with regular usage by two devices at a time. Note that battery life also varies a great deal depending on usage and settings. For example, if you let the device go to sleep when idle, refrain from playing with its touch screen, and don't use the GPS function, then its battery will last much longer than otherwise.

Conclusion
The Zing has a lot going for it, including the convenient touch screen, great battery life, and faster 4G speeds than the Sprint MiFi 500 LTE. However, currently, it's a little hard to enjoy the device since Sprint's 4G LTE coverage is still sparse and even when there's coverage, the speeds aren't the best I've seen. Hopefully this will improve over time, and only then will the Zing rank among the best mobile hot-spot routers on the market. For now, it's only the best among what Sprint has to offer.

What you'll pay

    Pricing is currently unavailable.

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    Where to Buy

    Netgear Zing (Sprint)

    Part Number: ZING

    Available direct from Sprint.

    About The Author

    CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews networking and storage products, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.