Friday, January 18, 2013

NetZero Mobile Wifi is Wifonderful!

I don’t do a lot of reviews here at Stimeyland anymore, but every once in a while something comes along that fits into my Criteria for Reviews. Those criteria are (1) the thing is Nintendo based, because Nintendo!, (2) the thing will result in Stimey making an ass of herself in public, creating fodder for an excellent post, or (3) that rarest of things—something that I really need, like actually need.

This review falls into the last category. NetZero contacted me a while ago about reviewing their 4G Mobile Broadband hotspot. The hotspot is basically mobile wifi that you carry with you. I was intrigued by this because I have a little bit of an internet addiction and while I usually don’t, you know, NEED wifi when I’m out and about, sometimes it is really handy to have. And, yes, sometimes I actually do need it.

So here’s the thing. The NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband Hotspot is awesome. I am a big fan. I am very happy with the hotspot and it is likely that I will continue to pay for service after my review service contract runs out. That is saying something. There are lots of things that I like and say are great because they are but that I might not spend my own money on. This I would.

So: Yes to NetZero, BUT there are some things I should tell you.

YAY! The hotspot can supply up to 8 devices with wifi at one time. NetZero also offers a stick hotspot that you can put in your laptop, but it just works on the one device. This thing I just put in my bag (it’s a couple of inches square and less than an inch thick) and it runs my iPad, iPhone, laptop, Alex’s laptop, Alex’s iPhone… Seriously, it’s awesome. We don’t have enough portable devices to max this thing out—and we have a lot of portable devices.

BOO! My hotspot didn’t work right out of the box. As a matter of fact, I had such a hard time getting it to work that I was convinced that I was not in a coverage area. I finally ended up calling the customer service number and they were able to help me. It turns out that I had to hard reboot the thing or something. Once it worked though, it worked. I live in the DC suburbs and I get coverage pretty much anywhere I am. You should definitely make sure there is NetZero 4G coverage where you want to use the hotspot though, because it isn’t available everywhere. There is a map on their website.

YAY! Once I got the hotspot working, I used it around the town. Then I really decided to test it out on our trip to New York. We used the hell out of that thing. Hotel wifi cost $15 a day, and we were able to just use the hotspot instead. We did run out of data (right in the middle of me streaming a movie even), but you should consider that Alex was telecommuting off the thing, we were streaming movies for our kids in the hotel room, I was blogging, and we were using our mobile devices on it when we were out in the city. If you run out, you have the option of buying more data as well. (Data plans range from $10/month to $50/month.) Using it in a less high-demand way this January, we have yet to run out of data.

BOO! I have had a hard time logging into the website to access my account, which I think is mostly a function of my being on a press account for reviewing the device. If you signed up yourself, I think it would be not a problem. That said, I am not able to access information on how much data I’ve used, etc. to help you decide what amount of data you might need.

YAY! I used to buy a cellular plan for my iPad whenever I traveled or my power went out so I would have easy access to the internet. I would buy the cheapest monthly plan at $20. It was great. But the hotspot price is totally comparable and you can have wifi for up to 8 devices. The hotspot itself costs $99.95, but it is on sale for $49.98 at the NetZero website.

YAY! So, how do I use this thing? The hotspot isn’t something that will replace my home internet. We have too many devices/data needs for that. But my home internet is crappy and sometimes doesn’t work in my living room, so I can use my hotspot there if the home wifi is acting up. I also watch Netflix while I run on my treadmill (OMG, Sons of Anarchy! Why did no one tell me to watch this show?) and that corner of my house is the least likely to get a home wifi signal, so I use my hotspot there. I also consider my iPad to be a tool to help me with my neurodiverse kids. If they get overwhelmed and need to calm down, my iPad is something that really helps. However, some of the games (Dragonvale!) need internet access to work. If I have my hotspot with me, it’s not a problem.

BOO! Sometimes the rechargeable battery will run down on you. I think the battery life is six hours, which in almost all cases is enough, but you have to remember to charge your hotspot every night. It is quick to pick up its charge though (YAY!)

YAY! The coverage where I have used the hotspot is really good. When I talked to customer service, they told me that the hotspot wouldn’t work in my house, just outside on the street, but it still works in my house. I have used it on major highways and have lost the signal here and there, but it’s been pretty consistent. It even held its connection when I went through a tunnel once. I could not, however, get a signal at the top of the Empire State Building.

Connected in a tunnel!
BOO! There is a free data option, so you can use your hotspot without paying a monthly fee. However, that data plan only gives you 200MB a month. I am guessing that most people probably use more than that. When I used to add a cellular plan to my iPad for travel, I would buy the smallest amount, which was 1GB for $20 and it was a good amount for me for that device. 1GB also costs $20 for the hotspot. If you only use a little bit of data, you might be able to get away with the no charge plan.

BOTTOM LINE! I would never have bought this device because I get nervous about gadget purchases and part of me didn’t really believe it would work. I would have hemmed and hawed and thought it was a really good idea, but I would never have believed it would work. I’m a believer now. It is so handy to have this little gadget all the time, but it was crazy awesome to have when traveling. I was super frustrated with it at first and was ready to throw it out the window, but once I got it to work, it has become an indispensable part of my stable of gadgets. I have been really pleased with this and would recommend it to people who are looking for something to help them with their mobile wifi needs.

I would have had lots of questions if I were thinking about buying one of these. Let me know if you have questions in the comments and I’ll try to answer them!

Disclosure: I received a free hotspot to review. I was also given a year’s free data service

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