T-Mobile's 4G Mobile Hotspot joins Sprint's MiFi 4082 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot as the second 4G mobile router we've reviewed. Though it's inferior to the MiFi 4082 in terms of Wi-Fi speed, due to the lack of support for Wireless-N, the T-Mobile router offers faster 4G speeds and much longer battery life. It also comes with the ability to send and receive text messages.
But it's not perfect. While the MiFi 4082 offers unlimited 4G and limited 3G access, T-Mobile bundles its 4G Mobile Hotspot mobile router with pseudo-unlimited data plans of $85 per month, $50 per month, and $30 per month that have data caps of 10GB, 5GB, and 200MB respectively. When these allowances are used up, the device will throttle down to work at much slower Internet speeds for the rest of the month.
If you just want a fast connection for e-mail, Web surfing, and casual YouTube and movie streaming, T-Mobile's 4G Mobile Hotspot would make a great choice. If you want true unlimited 4G data downloads, however, we'd recommend the Sprint MiFi 4082 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot.
The T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot is about the same size as the Sprint MiFi 4082 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot, though it looks more like a candy-bar-shaped mobile phone. The device is compact enough to be easily tucked away.
On top, it has a small LCD that shows all the important information, including the cellular signal strength, the type of the Internet connection (4G or 3G), the number of currently connected Wi-Fi clients, and a battery life gauge. This screen goes off by itself after a few seconds and can be turned back on by pressing the power button, which is on the side of the device. To turn the device on or off, you press and hold this button for a few seconds.
On the same side as the power button, there's a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button and a microSD slot. The WPS button allows WPS-enabled Wi-Fi devices to enter the mobile wireless network easily. We don't know the purpose of the microSD slot, as the router's Web interface doesn't show support for a network storage feature, such as the one found in the Sprint MiFi 4082. Maybe this feature will be added via a firmware update.
On the other side of the device, you'll find a slot for an external antenna (not included), and at its bottom there's a Micro-USB port. The hot spot comes with an unnecessarily long Micro-USB cable used for charging the device, either via a computer or the included power adapter.
There's virtually no setting-up process with the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot. The device comes with a network name (SSID) and an encryption key that's printed on its label; you have to remove the battery to see it. This information is only needed for Wi-Fi devices that don't support WPS. To get connected, all you have to do is turn the mobile router on, get the wireless clients connected manually or via the WPS features, and be in a T-Mobile coverage area. The router can support up to five clients at a time, which is limited but standard for all mobile routers we've seen. In our trials, the router took about 20 seconds to boot up and connect to the Internet as well as wireless clients.
The T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot comes with an interesting way to control users' Internet bandwidth. The device supports both 3G and 4G and comes with data caps for each plan as mentioned earlier. When the caps are reached, charges won't be incurred for extra usage; instead, the speed of the connection to the Internet will be reduced to 0.1Mbps (100Kbps) at most, compared with the normal connection speeds of between 3.5Mbps and 5Mbps. Note that if you are in a 4G coverage area and don't watch your usage, you can burn through 10GB in just about 2 or 3 hours of heavy downloading or HD streaming.
To make up for this somewhat mean method of controlling the bandwidth, T-Mobile bundles all data plans with unlimited access to its existing nationwide Wi-Fi HotSpot service, which you can access without the use of the mobile router.
Like other mobile routers, the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot has a Web interface that you can access by pointing a Web browser of a connected computer to its default IP address, which is 192.168.0.1. Here you can further customize its settings, including changing the network's name, the encryption key, the number of allowed wireless clients, and so on. This Web interface also supports text messaging, which could come in handy if you need to reach somebody and the Internet connection is just too slow for e-mails.
Though we love this Web interface for its responsiveness and ease of use, we noticed that the router took a long time--up to 5 minutes--to apply certain changes. For security, the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot features all existing variations of WPA encryption. It also gives the option to filter wireless clients via their MAC addresses.
In our tests, the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot lived up to T-Mobile's claims, offering 4G speeds of between 2.8Mbps and 4.5Mbps for downloading and around 1.8Mbps for uploading.
Note that these download and upload speeds could vary a great deal from one city to another, and the numbers mentioned here only represent the experience of those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
As a Wi-Fi router, the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot did fairly well for one that doesn't support Wireless-N, at just 10.8Mbps. The device excelled, however, in its battery life, which was about 6 hours in our testing, compared with the Sprint MiFi 4082's 4 hours.
The T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot makes a great companion for those who travel and need a fast solution for e-mailing and surfing the Web. The included T-Mobile Wi-Fi HotSpot service, which is available at most airports, is an added bonus that many travelers will appreciate. Its reduced Internet speed restriction, however, will be frustrating for those who rely on heavy Web surfing and downloading.