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

Each of these icons, when tapped, will open up the detail page of the function the icon represents. For example, if you tap the Data Usage icon, you'll be able to view the summary of your data plan and how much of the plan you have used up for the current month. Similarly, the Settings icon will allow you to view and change certain router settings, such as Airplane mode, screen brightness, and so on.

There are 10 icons for quick access to the router's features and settings, and you can scroll among them by swiping a finger on the screen. Each screen can show at most 4 icons. Overall, the touch screen and its granular interaction bring the mobile-router experience to the next level: it's now something of a smart device rather than something you just turn on or off.

While you can view the status of all the router's functions, such as the number of connected clients, and even take actions like quickly blocking a client from accessing the device, you can't change all the settings. For example, if you want to change the router's Wi-Fi network's name and password, and whether its information is displayed or not displayed on the screen, you'll need to use the router's Web interface. To do this, from a connected client, preferably a computer with a full-featured browser, go to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1, and log in with the default password, which is "attadmin."

The MiFi Liberate's Web interface offers deep access to its features and settings.
The MiFi Liberate's Web interface offers deep access to its features and settings. Dong Ngo/CNET

Here you'll find that the router offers almost all the common features you'd find in a full-size Wi-Fi router. The Web interface is well-organized and responsive, making it easy to manage the router's media-streaming feature. The router can stream digital content stored on its microSD card to DLNA-compatible devices. I tried out this feature with a few devices, including a DLNA Wi-Fi speaker, and it worked very well, making the Liberate a great little device for say, a mobile office, where you want to have music in the background.

The router also worked great as a file-sharing server in my trials. It fully supports Windows (XP Service Pack 3 and up) and Mac OS X (10.6 or higher); Windows users can browse for shared files using Windows Explorer/File Explorer, while Mac users will find shared files with Finder. The router shares the contents of the microSD card with everybody with full access. There's no way to restrict this, but that's normal considering this is a tiny device. While the included microSD card offers only 2GB of storage space, the Liberate can host one that offers up to 32GB in case you want to carry more data on the go.

The router also supports WPS, GPS, and common features found in other mobile hot spots. Overall, the Liberate is much more fun to use than its peers and offers more features and great usability.

Performance and data plans
Cellular data speed varies a great deal depending on where you are. In my trials around the San Francisco Bay Area, the MiFi Liberate generally offered great 4G LTE speed, which was around 5Mbps to 25Mbps for download and 2Mbps to 10Mbps for upload. In the end, on average, the router offered about 11Mbps up and 9Mbps down in my testing. I was also able to get a 4G signal virtually everywhere, even when I was on the freeway. Apart from 4G LTE, the router also supports 3G networks for areas in which 4G coverage is not available. During my testing, however, there weren't any instances where I didn't get a 4G signal.

As a Wi-Fi router, the MiFi Liberate supports Wireless-N and offers a top speed of 150Mbps for local devices, which is the standard for mobile routers. In my testing, the router offered much longer range than the 30 feet cited in its specs. In fact, I could get a Wi-Fi signal on my iPhone 4S up to almost 100 feet away. The router's signal also seemed to penetrate walls very well.

The MiFi Liberate's battery offered a solid 10 hours of use in my testing. When used casually, however, it lasted almost two full work days on one charge when I used a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone with it. This is great battery life; note that you can always connect the router to a laptop to charge it while on the go. Generally, a mobile router's battery life varies a great deal depending on how it's used and how many Wi-Fi devices are connected to it.

Even during heavy loads, the MiFi Liberate didn't get hot in my tests. It became slightly warm when being charged, but that is quite normal.

Overall, I have no complaints about the router's performance. And if you live or travel within AT&T's 4G coverage area, you will likely have no complaints, either. The only things you should be concerned about are the price and data plans.

The MiFi Liberate costs just $50 if you're willing to sign up for a two-year contract or $150 with a one-year. If not, it'll cost $200. The MiFi Liberate comes with six Mobile Share Device Data Plans that carry a monthly cost of $40, $70, $90, $120, $160, and $200 for the data caps of 1GB, 4GB, 6GB, 10GB, 15GB, and 20GB, respectively. When the cap is reached, you'll be charged another $15 for each additional gigabyte.

Note that at full 4G LTE speeds you can burn through 20GB in just about a few hours with the MiFi Liberate, making the feature that shows the detail of your data usage on the router's screen really handy.

Cellular Internet speed (in Kbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Download  
Upload  
Verizon VL600 UB Modem (4G)
12,288 
3,130 
Novatel MiFi Liberate
11,232 
8,923 
Novatel Jetpack MiFi 4620L
10,047 
9,845 
Clear 4G+ Apollo
9,235 
3,313 
Clear 4G+ USB Modem (4G)
9,216 
3,072 
Clear Spot Voyager
7,393 
2,259 
T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 (4G)
6,729 
2,440 
Verizon Fivespot (3G)
1,300 
700 
Sprint MiFi 2200 (3G)
1,000 
550 
Verizon MiFi 2200 (3G)
1,000 
500 

Conclusion
With a practical design and great performance, the Novatel MiFi Liberate makes an excellent mobile router for those who live and travel within the AT&T's coverage area and can afford its data plans.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Novatel MiFi Liberate (AT&T)

Part Number: 65394
MSRP: $199.99 Low Price: $85.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 4.3 oz
  • Connectivity Technology wireless
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