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Clear Spot 4G - Apollo review: Clear Spot 4G - Apollo

Clear Spot 4G - Apollo

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

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 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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The Clear Spot 4G - Apollo is the first 4G-only mobile router we've seen and we love it. The device provides very fast Internet connections, works very well out of the box, and displays all the important information on its large and helpful LCD screen. It's also affordable, costing around $99 with no contract required (or it can be leased for $6 per month), and comes with unlimited data plans that start at just $45 per month.

Clear Spot 4G - Apollo
8.3

Clear Spot 4G - Apollo

The Good

The <b>Clear Spot 4G - Apollo</b> mobile router provides fast cellular Internet access to up to eight clients at a time, with affordable unlimited data plans. The Apollo incorporates a large LCD that shows helpful information about the device, and the battery lasts a long time.

The Bad

The Apollo doesn't support 3G, Wireless-N, or text messaging, and is comparatively bulky.

The Bottom Line

For those who live or travel within Clear's 4G coverage, the Clear Spot 4G - Apollo is an excellent mobile-broadband option and wins our Editors' Choice Award.

On the downside, the Apollo, though compact, is a little bulkier than other mobile routers, such as the Sprint MiFi 4082 or the Samsung SCH-LC11. Also, as a router, it doesn't support Wireless-N but just the old Wireless-G (802.11g) standard, which caps at 54Mbps. And the fact that it doesn't support 3G means that you won't have a backup connection when you're out of Clear's coverage area.

Nonetheless, if you're within Clear's 4G coverage, all things considered, the Apollo makes one of the best, if not the best, 4G mobile Internet access solutions on the market.

Design, ease of use, and features
Completely square and measuring 3.4 inches on each side and .7 inch thick, the Apollo is a compact device. It's not compact enough for you to slide it into a wallet or hide it in your pocket, though it's very light, just 4.5 ounces. On the bottom, the device comes with two ports for external antennas (not included) and a slide-open cover for a battery bay that houses an included lithium ion 2200 mAh rechargeable battery. The router won't work without a battery even though it comes with a separate power adapter. It can also be charged using a standard Micro-USB cable via any USB charger, such as that of an iPad or a computer.

On one side, the Apollo has a power button that you need to press and hold for a few seconds to turn it on or off. On the other side, there's a mute button to keep the router completely silent. This is because the router otherwise emits a short and rather quiet ringtone each time a Wi-Fi client connects to or disconnects from its network. We actually found this ringtone incredibly helpful, but for those who want to use the router incognito, there's the option to mute it.

On top the router has a large (for a router of its size) LCD that shows important information, including the 4G signal strength, number of connected Wi-Fi clients, battery gauge, Wi-Fi network's name and its encryption keys, and current speed of the 4G connection. By far, this is the most informative LCD display we've seen on a mobile router. To conserve battery, the LCD would turn itself off after about 10 seconds or so, but turns back on after a single press of the power button.

There's nothing to setting up the Apollo, other than turning it on. You can further customize its features and settings via its Web interface, by pointing the browser of a connected computer to its default IP address of 192.168.15.1. The default password to log in is "admin." Via the Web interface you can change the router's wireless network (or SSID) and access a relatively comprehensive set of other features. For example, you can choose to handle work with a DynDNS server, assign fixed IP addresses, or forward certain ports to connected clients. For security the router supports all versions of WPA and WPA 2, although it doesn't support the legacy WEP encryption method.

Unlike some other mobile routers we've reviewed, such as the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot ZTE MF61, the Apollo doesn't offer the ability to send and receive text messages via its Web interface, nor does it have a built-in GPS function to offer localized services. The router doesn't offer tethering, either, meaning when plugged into a computer it only charges its battery and doesn't work as cellular modem.

Data plans and performance
We tried The Clear Spot 4G - Apollo around the San Francisco Bay Area, which is part of Clear's 4G coverage, and it offered great performance with download speeds that peaked at around 10Mbps and upload speeds peaking at around 5Mbps. It averaged a consistent 9Mbps and 3Mbps for download and upload, respectively, similar to the Clear 4G+ modem. At this speed, the router can finish downloading a full 1080p HD movie in less than 2 hours, and offer great performance even for the most demanding Internet-related applications, such as HD media streaming to multiple computers.

The great thing about the Apollo is that you actually can download or stream as much as you want. The router comes with multiple data plans with the unlimited 4G plans starting at just $45 per month. Compared with Verizon's $80-per-month data plan with its 10GB data cap, this is a great deal. Those who don't download a lot and just want to have a fast device for basic e-mail and Web surfing can also opt for Clear's cheapest data plan with the Apollo, which costs just $20 per month but comes with a 200MB data cap.

We were a little disappointed that the Apollo supports only the 802.11g wireless standard, meaning its local Wi-Fi network will cap at just 54Mbps. While this is plenty fast enough for Internet access, it's not fast enough for local network services such as file sharing between connected clients. The router does works with all wireless clients, however, including N-standard clients, and offered good range in our testing, providing usable connectivity up to 75 feet. While the router's signal can be detected up to 150 feet or so away, we found that it's best used within about 50 feet or less, which is plenty for a router of its size.

More than making up for the lack of Wireless-N, the Apollo also offered great battery life in our testing, up to almost 7 hours of continuous casual usage on one full charge. The device won't turn itself off when idle for a long time, meaning you'll need to manually turn it off when you don't want to use it. However, this also means that you can leave it somewhere secluded, such as the trunk of a car or a corner of the house, without having to look for it once in a while to turn it back on.

Cellular Internet speed (in Kbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Upload  
Download  
Clear 4G+ Apollo
3,313 
9,235 
Clear 4G+ USB Modem (4G)
3,072 
9,216 
T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 (4G)
2,440 
6,729 
Verizon Fivespot (3G)
700 
1,300 
Sprint MiFi 2200 (3G)
550 
1,000 

Conclusions
Despite its relatively large size and the lack of Wireless-N support, the Editors' Choice Award-winning Clear Spot 4G - Apollo makes an excellent mobile Internet access option thanks to its ease of use, fast Internet speeds, and, most importantly, the included unlimited and affordable 4G data plans. The router's lack of support for 3G, however, means that it's only useful when used within Clear's 4G coverage areas.

Clear Spot 4G - Apollo
8.3

Clear Spot 4G - Apollo

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9