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T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick review: T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick

T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick

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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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4 min read

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.

T-Mobile WebConnect Rocket 3.0
7.9

T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick

The Good

The <b>T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick</b> USB modem provides a fast Internet connection for a single computer and gives unlimited access to T-Mobile Wi-Fi hot spots. The device has a nice design and embedded connection software for both PCs and Macs that also supports text messaging.

The Bad

The T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 comes with expensive and limited data plans that throttle down Internet speed when the data allowance is reached. The modem itself is rather bulky and its download speed fluctuates a great deal.

The Bottom Line

The T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick provides a very good mobile Internet connection in areas where T-Mobile 4G or Wi-Fi hot-spot coverage is available.

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.

Data plans and performance
The T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 comes with four data plans: 10GB, 5GB, 2GB, or 200MB for $85, $50, $40, or $30 per month respectively. These are very low data caps because at full speed the Rocket 3.0 can burn through 10GB of data in just about an hour of heavy downloading. As with the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot, when the data cap is reached, you won't have to pay more for continuing usage. Instead, the modem's speed is throttled down to a very slow speed, equivalent to that of a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or EDGE connection, for the rest of the month.

For the time before the data cap has been reached, however, you're likely to be happy with the Rocket 3.0's performance. In our testing around the San Francisco Bay Area, the device turned in download speeds of between 1Mbps and 13Mbps. This is a huge fluctuation, but that's not unusual for a cellular data connection. In the end, we found the device typically managed around 6.7Mbps download and around 2.4Mbps upload. These are very fast speeds sufficient for almost any Internet-related uses, including streaming HD content.

Note that we weren't able to experience the double 4G speed that T-Mobile claims for the device, even in recommended locations in San Francisco, such as at Pier 39 or around Chinatown. This is rather disappointing but considering the low data caps it could be a good thing. It also doesn't mean the modem is unable to offer those speeds, as perhaps it can in other cities or at different times of day.

Cellular Internet speed (in Kbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Upload  
Download  
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
The T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick didn't meet our expectations in regard to the double 4G speed T-Mobile claims, but still was very fast in our testing, on par with and sometimes even faster than other 4G devices we've reviewed. It would be an even better with an unlimited data plan, but it's still a good choice for anyone who travels with a laptop.

T-Mobile WebConnect Rocket 3.0
7.9

T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7