T-Mobile says its recently launched Rocket 3.0 modem can double existing 4G Internet access speeds by offering up to 42Mbps download speed, although in our testing in the San Francisco Bay Area it failed to deliver in this regard. The modem is indeed very fast, comparable to the LG VL600 LTE USB modem from Verizon. Though its design is similar, the T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 Laptop Stick is much better than the Verizon modem thanks to a swiveling USB head and embedded connection software that supports both PCs and Macs.
Like all mobile 4G cellular Internet options we've reviewed, the modem's speed fluctuates a great deal. Most of the time it is fast enough for even the most demanding Internet uses. Unfortunately, that's only if you haven't used up the monthly data limit, in which case the modem's speed will be throttled down to a crawl.
At a price of $100 (after a $50 mail-in rebate and with a two-year contract) and with multiple data plans, the T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 is a very good mobile access option for a single computer. For unlimited 4G access, we'd recommend the Clear 4G+ Mobile Series S modem, or, if you want to share a connection among multiple devices, a mobile router such as the Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot or the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot.
Design, ease of use, and features
The T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick USB modem looks very similar to Verizon's LG VL600, with a collapsible USB head that can be tucked away when not in use. As we mentioned, though, the Rocket 3.0's USB head can swivel 90 degrees when opened up, making it fit better on a laptop without overcrowding the port area. This is a nice touch, considering that the Rocket is rather bulky for a device of its type, measuring 1.1 inches by 3.4 inches by 0.5 inch. The device also comes with an extension USB cable for use with USB ports located in obscure spots. Although the Rocket is black, it comes with two covers, one blue and one violet, which can be swapped out easily to change the look of the device.
The best thing about the Rocket 3.0's design, which the Verizon LG VL600 doesn't have, is the fact that it comes with built-in storage containing T-Mobile WebConnect Manager software that works with both PCs and Macs. This means you don't have to worry about carrying a CD of software just to use the modem. The first time you plug the Rocket into a computer the software will prompt you to install it, and within less than a minute you're ready to go. The modem also has a microSD slot, located underneath the cover near the SIM slot. With a microSD card inserted, the modem will also work as a thumbdrive.
The Rocket 3.0 modem works with an EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM Environment), 3G, or 4G network, and will automatically pick the fastest network available to connect to. In our testing, it took just a few seconds to get connected to a network.
The Rocket 3.0 comes with a small instruction manual, but there's no need to use it at all. All you have to do is plug the device into a computer. The T-Mobile WebConnect Manager software can be used to either connect the device to a cellular network or manage a Wi-Fi connection to a T-Mobile hot spot when available. You can also use the software to send and receive text messages, view data usage status, and locate the nearest T-Mobile Wi-Fi hot spot.