Novatel Wireless MiFi Liberate review: AT&T's best mobile router offering to date

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.2
  • Design and ease of use: 9.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Service and support: 7.0

Average User Rating

1.5 stars 1 user review
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Novatel Wireless MiFi Liberate has a handy touch screen, and offers fast 4G performance, long battery life, and lots of features.

The Bad The Novatel MiFi Liberate is relatively bulky, it doesn't use standard batteries, and you can't use its touch screen to manage all of its features.

The Bottom Line The Novatel Wireless MiFi Liberate is arguably the best mobile router AT&T has offered yet.

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The Novatel Wireless MiFi Liberate, which also goes by the name AT&T Mobile Hotspot MiFi Liberate, is a mobile cellular router that will not just free you (and up to 10 Wi-Fi devices of yours) from having to be indoors to be connected, but also from having to use a computer to manage it. This is because it's the first mobile hot spot I've seen that comes with a large touch screen, making accessing and managing its settings and features superconvenient.

But the touch-screen novelty isn't the best thing about the new mobile router. Its 4G LTE speed and Wi-Fi performance were very fast in my testing and the little device comes with all the features collectively found in other hot spots, such as tethering, GPS, and a microSD card for network storage features.

The few minor complaints I have about the device are that it's rather bulky, it doesn't work with standard batteries, and AT&T has no unlimited data plans for it.

If you live or travel within AT&T's cellular coverage, especially its 4G LTE coverage, and can afford one of the six limited data plans AT&T offers with it, the Novatel MiFi Liberate would arguably be the best choice for those with multiple portable Wi-Fi devices.

Design

The MiFi Liberate 4G LTE hot spot
The MiFi Liberate 4G LTE hot spot, made by Novatel Wireless. Lynn La/CNET

With a flat panel extending from a cylindrical head that houses the battery, the MiFi Liberate resembles the Apple Magic Trackpad or a digital travel alarm clock more than a mobile hot spot. Measuring 4.05 inches by 2.88 inches by 0.34 inch and weighing 4.3 ounces, it's also one of the larger mobile hot spots I've seen. While more compact than the Jetpack 890L from Verizon, the new mobile router is not thin or tiny enough for you to easily keep it in your pocket or wallet.

This is not a big deal, though; the device is attractive enough, especially with its colorful screen, for you to show off in the open.

The MiFi Liberate comes with a proprietary rechargeable 2,900mAh battery that resembles a AA battery but is larger and longer. While most, if not all, mobile routers I've seen come with a proprietary battery, their batteries don't share this shape. The fact that the Liberate's battery bay looks like it can host standard batteries makes me feel like it's a missed opportunity that you can't use off-the-shelf batteries with it.

The mobile router's power button is nestled to the left of the battery bay, and on the opposite side of the bay is a Micro-USB charging port for charging. While connected to a computer, the Liberate can both charge and work as a tethered cellular modem, which is a great way to hook a non-Wi-Fi computer to the Internet. Tethering is an option that can be turned on or off; when it's on, the MiFi Liberate still works as a router at the same time.

On the bottom of the device, once the battery has been removed, you'll find a SIM slot that hosts a regular-size SIM card. While the Liberate is available in the U.S. from AT&T, it's likely that you can switch the provider by swapping out the SIM card.

Also on the bottom but toward the front, the Liberate has a microSD slot that comes with a 2GB microSD card. You can use this card to store data to share or stream to connected Wi-Fi clients; this is a handy feature for business users who are traveling in a group and need to share a small amount of data, such as photos or presentation slides.

Setting up the MiFi Liberate is a cinch. You just need to turn it on and connect the Wi-Fi device to its default network with the default password (by default, this information is shown on the screen), and you're all set.

Features
When it comes to features, the MiFi Liberate covers all the bases. The most obvious and noteworthy is the device's touch screen, which works somewhat like a smartphone's. To turn the screen on (it turns off by itself after being idle for a few minutes), you just need to press the router's power button once. After that, you'll need to slide across to unlock, similar to an iPhone screen, and then you'll be greeted with a row of labeled icons, such as Connection Details, Data Usage, and Settings, which look like the app icons on the iPhone screen.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 4.3 oz
  • Connectivity Technology wireless