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Netgear Zing review: Excellent mobile router if you can get Sprint 4G

The only thing that holds the Netgear Zing mobile hot spot back is Sprint's currently limited 4G LTE network.

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.
Dong Ngo
6 min read

Take your sports car on a rough country road, and no matter how good a car it is, chances are you won't go very fast. It's the same with the Netgear Zing.


Netgear Zing

The Good

The <b>Netgear Zing</b> is very convenient to use thanks to its large touch screen, robust Web interface, and capable mobile app. The device offers impressive 4G performance despite the currently lacking Sprint 4G LTE network.

The Bad

The mobile router is a little large, and Sprint's 4G LTE is currently limited in many cities.

The Bottom Line

The Zing is a robust and capable mobile cellular router, but make sure you're happy with Sprint's 4G LTE coverage first before getting it.

This is the first 4G/3G mobile hot-spot router from the networking vendor, which up to now has been better known for making regular-size networking devices, such as the R6300 802.11ac router. The Zing is, for now, available only from Sprint, and Sprint's 4G LTE network is to some extent still in its infancy, both in terms of coverage and speed.

That aside, the new mobile router is one of the most advanced I've seen that comes with an interactive touch screen, a robust Web interface, and a mobile app for managing and monitoring it. In addition to supporting both 3G and 4G networks, it includes GPS functionality and a long-lasting battery, all housed in a solid and sturdy body.

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In my testing around the San Francisco Bay Area, where Sprint hasn't officially launched its 4G LTE network, the Zing's performance was quite impressive. Much better than that of the similar Sprint MiFi 500 LTE from Novatel Wireless.

The device costs exactly the same as the MiFi 500 LTE, at $50 after mail-in rebate (a two-year contract required) and comes with the same three data plans of 3GB, 6GB, and 12GB costing $35, $50, and $80 per month, respectively. And this means there's no reason you shouldn't pick it over the Novatel counterpart.

Whether or not you should pick it over hot spots from other carriers, however, depends entirely on if you're happy with Sprint's current 4G LTE coverage. If you are, then for now the Netgear Zing is easily the best option if you want to bring fast Internet access to up to 10 mobile Wi-Fi-enabled devices at a time when you're out and about.

Though a little large compared with other hot spots, the Netgear Zing is still small and thin enough to be easily carried around.
Though a little large compared with other hot spots, the Netgear Zing is still small and thin enough to be easily carried around. Dong Ngo/CNET

A little large but thin and very sturdy
Measuring 2.7 inches by 4.3 inches by 0.6 inch, the Zing is quite large compared with other hot spots such as the MiFi 500 LTE or the AT&T MiFi Liberate, but it's thin and small enough to be carried around easily. The device is also very sturdy, and feels very solid in the hand despite being made mostly of plastic.

On one side, it has two ports to support external antennas, a SIM card slot that support micro-SIM, and a Micro-USB port for charging with the included power adapter. You can also charge the device via a computer's USB port, and in this case it can also be used as a tethered modem to provide Internet access to the host computer. This is a good feature if your computer doesn't support Wi-Fi.

On the opposite side, there's a power button that you can press and hold to turn the device on or off, or press just once to wake it up from sleep mode. The device took exactly 30 seconds to boot fully boot up and be ready to provide Internet access.

The Zing's bottom opens up to reveal the battery bay, which holds a 2,500mAh lithum ion battery. This battery is more powerful than the MiFi 500 LTE's, and it's needed to power something the Zing has that the MiFi doesn't: a 2.4-inch LCD resistive color touch screen on top.

Full-access touch screen, robust Web interface, and a capable mobile app

The Zing has a robust and easy-to-use Web interface.
The Zing has a robust and easy-to-use Web interface. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Mobile routers with touch screens aren't new, but the Zing brings this to a new level. The device's screen doesn't just show the router's status and settings, but also provides a place to customize all of its settings and features. On the home screen, you can quickly view the number of connected Wi-Fi clients, the amount of data that's been used, the battery life, and so on. You can dig deeper via five buttons: Devices, Wi-Fi, Settings, Billing Cycle, and Session.

Each of these buttons leads to more functions or settings that you can customize. The Devices button, for example, shows you the connected devices' IP address and MAC address, and you can also block or unblock them if need be.

Obviously, you can only use the Zing's touch screen if you have it in your hand; when it's out of reach, you can also customize it via the Web interface. This is especially convenient for those using a laptop or desktop computer. You can access the interface by pointing a browser from a connected computer to the router's default IP address, which is (the default password is "password"). Here you'll find the items and settings are organized similarly to on the touch screen.

The Zing supports the basic settings of a regular router, such as port forwarding, port filtering, UPnP, and so on. There's one unique feature: you can create a secondary Guest Wi-Fi network in addition to the main Wi-Fi network. Devices connected to the Guest network can connect to the Internet but can't talk to one another or to those connected to the main Wi-Fi network. Since the router supports a maximum of 10 concurrent Wi-Fi clients, you can also choose the number of clients allocated to either network. For example, you could make it so 7 clients can connect to the main network and 3 can connect to the guest network.

The app provides a convenient way to monitor the router's status and customize its settings.
The app provides a convenient way to monitor the router's status and customize its settings. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Unlike other mobile routers, the Zing has another way for you to manage it: via mobile app. The app is called Netgear AirCard, and it's available for both iOS and Android devices. Using this app, you can manage the router similarly to using the Web interface, but a lot more conveniently if you're on a mobile device.

The Netgear Zing wasn't the fastest mobile router I've seen, but most likely this is because at the time of the review, Sprint hasn't officially launched its 4G LTE service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet, the Zing -- like the MiFi 500 LTE -- was able to pick up full 4G LTE signal in many parts of the city. And in my testing, it was much faster than the MiFi 500 LTE and much more reliable. Speeds of both download and upload were generally stable and averages around 6.1Mbps and 3.5Mbps for download and upload, respectively. Compared with other mobile routers from other carriers that I've reviewed, these were still below average, however.

Note that this is what I experienced in the Bay Area. As with all mobile routers, cellular Internet speed varies a great deal depending on where you are and sometimes even on the time of the day. So you might get totally different numbers where you are. However, after a few days of testing, I believe the Zing delivers the best of what Sprint has to offer.

4G cellular Internet speed (in Kbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Novatel MiFi Liberate
Jetpack 4G LTE 890L
Samsung 4G LTE SCH-LC11
Clear 4G+ Apollo
Clear Spot Voyager
T-Mobile Rocket 3.0
Netgear Zing
T-Mobile 4G Mobile
T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile
Sprint MiFi 4082
Verizon Fivespot (3G)

As a mobile Wi-Fi router, the Zing was excellent, offering very good range and a stable Wi-Fi signal. Though Netgear only claimed 10 hours for it, I was able to get more than a day out of the battery with regular usage by two devices at a time. Note that battery life also varies a great deal depending on usage and settings. For example, if you let the device go to sleep when idle, refrain from playing with its touch screen, and don't use the GPS function, then its battery will last much longer than otherwise.

The Zing has a lot going for it, including the convenient touch screen, great battery life, and faster 4G speeds than the Sprint MiFi 500 LTE. However, currently, it's a little hard to enjoy the device since Sprint's 4G LTE coverage is still sparse and even when there's coverage, the speeds aren't the best I've seen. Hopefully this will improve over time, and only then will the Zing rank among the best mobile hot-spot routers on the market. For now, it's only the best among what Sprint has to offer.


Netgear Zing

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 8Performance 7Support 8