The actual hot-spot device I used is the ZTE MF60. Shaped like a smooth skipping stone, the device measures 3.93 inches long by 2.11 inches wide by 0.55 inch and weighs 2.65 ounces. On the front there's a small monochrome screen that shows the carrier names, signal strength, connection status, and battery life. A black plastic skin encloses the hot spot save for a thin silver ring around the middle. There you'll find the power control, a Micro-USB charger port, and a microSD card slot. The back cover removes easily to expose the 1,500mAh battery.
The hot spot comes in a fabric carrying case along with a standard wall charger and a plug adapter for the region to which you're traveling. You also can order extra batteries or a larger extended battery for an extra fee. Though Telecom Square sent me an extended battery to test, I never used it, mostly because I didn't want to carry the extra bulk around. Insurance is available for $2.95 per day, which will reduce your cost of a replacement device if your hot spot is lost or stolen.
I used Telecom Square on a two-week trip to Germany and Greece. In Germany, I used it around Lake Constance in Baden Wurttemberg (I just had to go to the Zeppelin Museum), in Southern Bavaria, and in Munich. In Greece, I used it exclusively on Crete near the city of Hania. The devices I used included an
On the whole, my experience was much better in Germany. There I always had a connection and my speeds were consistently fast, at least for what I was doing. As the MF60 tops out at 3G speeds (LTE hot spots aren't yet available), its promised speeds are 21Mbps download and 5.76Mbps upload. Though I didn't verify those promises with any tests, I was able to upload photos to Facebook, use Twitter, watch YouTube videos, send and receive e-mails, and browse the Internet without any hiccups. That was true even in a rural mountainous area near Neuschwantsein Castle. Streaming music was choppier at times, but I really had no major complaints.
My experience in Greece wasn't quite as rosy, but that wasn't the fault of the device. Remember that because the hot spot relies on a cellular connection, the Wi-Fi experience will depend on the carrier's signal. Unfortunately in my case, coverage where I was staying never got above four bars. And even then, the 3G connection was rather slow. It was passable if I was using it alone, but it slowed considerably when another person jumped on. Indeed, there were times when I couldn't tweet a photo or load a standard Web page when other people were using the hot spot with me.
The rated battery life is 2 to 3 hours. I had no problem reaching that mark, and it was more than enough juice for my use. Yet, it would have been a problem if I was out working all day and away from an outlet. Depending on your plans, you should consider another battery. The promised Wi-Fi range is 25 to 100 feet.
Though I never had to use Telecom Square's customer service while on the road, it's a big point in the device's favor: its tech support is open 24 hours a day. On the other hand, XCom Global's reps are only available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. Indeed, those limited hours were the biggest problem when a group of CNET editors used XCom's hot spots at the 2013 Mobile World Congress. Given the 9-hour tome difference between Barcelona, Spain, and the West Coast, they had to seek help very late in their workday when the devices weren't functioning properly.
As noble as the idea as going off the grid may be, sometimes it's just not an attainable goal. And for those times, and for really heavy Internet users, Telecom Square delivers a reliable and user-friendly service for getting online. Sure, your exact experience will depend on how good cellular coverage is in your area, but that would be true with any wireless hot spot. And in most urban areas and tourist traps, I imagine that you'll be fine. What's more, while the service is expensive from the outset, if you weigh your options carefully, it may save you money in the long run.
Of course, public Wi-Fi through your hotel or a cafe is an option, but it won't always be feasible or practical. Not only can the quality of public Wi-Fi vary widely, but it's not secure. Terrible people trying to hack your device do exist, and you'll most likely find them in places where you don't need a password or an account to get online. The MF60, on the other hand, is secured through WEP and WPA standard, with each device having a unique password. Just note that each hot spot has a sticker with the password on it, so be careful where you have or to whom you show it.