Which high-end mobile hotspot is best?
Smartphones are great for convenient everyday use, especially for simple tasks like finding directions or answering that obscure yet burning question that’s on your mind. If you need to access large amounts of data while on the move, for example, using a laptop or tablet to consume HD media or conduct hours of video calls each day, you might have a better time relying on a high-end mobile hotspot.
The top high-end mobile hotspot is the Netgear Nighthawk M1 due to its worldwide compatibility, convenient user interface and great reception.
What to know before buying a high-end mobile hotspot
The only major carrier in the world to use CDMA technology (which doesn’t use SIM cards) is USA-based Verizon.They have a great data coverage map by all accounts, but since they’re based on such a specialized technology.
Verizon users will be best served simply by buying an advanced Verizon hotspot.
In contrast, the GSM technology (the same technology that uses, the almost universal, SIM cards found in U.S. phones) is used pretty much worldwide, and you can trust all of today’s high-end mobile hotspots to support data plans in most countries you will travel to.
International data plans
North America is one of a few parts of the world where mobile phones and data plans can get expensive fast. Since most hotspots can ultimately be unlocked (with a few caveats in some cases), a battery-powered hotspot can deliver high-speed data in a wide range of places. Suppose you are planning to leave the United States. In that case, you’ll find that data plans are considerably more reasonably priced and flexible in some parts of the world, particularly Europe and even some parts of Southeast Asia.
On the other hand, if you should ever find yourself traveling internationally unexpectedly, try at all costs to avoid getting roped into your U.S. carrier’s international roaming plan. In almost every single case, you’ll save a great deal of money and prevent numerous headaches by simply getting a new SIM card when you arrive in each country. Only in rare cases should you opt into international roaming plans. Examples of these would be if you need constant access to your U.S. number, you only need a few dozen SMS messages or you are only going to use a couple hundred megabytes of data throughout your entire trip.
What to look for in a high-end mobile hotspot
Integrated Wi-Fi technology
While it’s true that Wi-Fi 4 (formerly known as 802.11n) is entirely sufficient for most people’s everyday use, it’s strongly advised to look for devices that support Wi-Fi 5 (AKA 802.11ac). This isn’t just because Wi-Fi 5 is a much more robust standard, but also because devices that adhere to the newer standard are more likely to have more reliable and high-performance components inside. You’ll also find a few mobile hotspots with Wi-Fi 6 routers built-in; those are the best if you’re dedicated to using cutting-edge technology that can take advantage of the latest wireless networking protocols.
This combines a couple of aspects. The first and most obvious is battery capacity because you don’t want your laptop to have to deliver power to an inefficient hotspot that drops from 100% to 20% in just a few minutes. The other aspect of battery life relates to Wi-Fi 6 connectivity. If you’re the owner of a late-model smartphone with Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, the right hotspot can contribute quite a bit to the battery health of your smartphone. Thanks to some novel Wi-Fi technology that lets your phone hibernate for every possible millisecond when it’s not actively transmitting data.
Supported 4G bands
While this is a very subtle feature that you might have to dig for, keep in mind that not every country uses the same wireless frequency bands for high-end data. If you know which countries you’ll be visiting, make sure to dig deep and ensure that your chosen hotspot supports the most popular 4G bands in those countries. The answer likely is, “yes, this hotspot will work fine in your destination country.” Still, just in case, we recommend cross-referencing with detailed resources to ensure you can take advantage of your new hotspot anywhere in the world.
How much you can expect to spend on a high-end mobile hotspot
The most dependable and best-performing high-end mobile hotspots run about $300. Alternatively, you can pay about half that and get something that still performs great in most parts of the country and world.
High-end mobile hotspot FAQ
Do I need a 5G mobile hotspot?
A. At this exact moment, most people don’t necessarily need a 5G mobile hotspot. The benefits that come with buying new technology are more than just speed, though. For example, if a hotspot supports advanced 5G mobile networks, it’s considerably more likely to have fast charging, a high-efficiency battery and additional premium features like an integrated WiFi 6 router. For those reasons, you might consider opting for a newer hotspot, and if it has 5G connectivity, at the very least you know it’s future-proof,. In the short term it’s probably equipped with other quality-of-life improvements.
How do SIM-free hotspots work?
A. To set up most hotspots, you need to visit a mobile phone store, purchase a prepaid SIM card or sign up for a postpaid phone plan, and then set up the device. SIM-free hotspots eliminate the need to visit the store and physically purchase data allowances, which can be immensely helpful, especially for anyone traveling internationally. The drawback is that their data plans will be restricted and notably more expensive in some areas outside of the U.S., you’ll end up paying a good deal more for similar amounts of data on the dollar. With that said, there are a few SIM-free hotspot networks, and they’re all different. The GLocal ecosystem is often called the best, but others offer good services throughout the U.S. and large parts of the world.
What’s the best high-end mobile hotspot to buy?
Top high-end mobile hotspot
What you need to know: It’s a widely compatible, factory-unlocked hotspot that works in most parts of the world.
What you’ll love: Using GSM technology, it supports SIM cards from just about any country. It delivers impressive 4G LTE speeds up to 1Gbps download and can connect with up to 20 devices at once, far more than most travelers will ever need. It’s easy to use, has a long battery life and is backed by a one-year hardware warranty.
What you should consider: It’s not cheap, and it’s a bit larger than some of the more recent models.
Where to buy: Amazon
Top high-end mobile hotspot for the money
What you need to know: The G4 Pro is as simple as they come and the best for users on a budget who need reliable access to the web.
What you’ll love: This one’s a little different from most. The most notable standout feature is its SIM-free operation; instead of picking a GSM carrier like T-Mobile or AT&T and buying a SIM card from them, you purchase additional data allowances directly from the GLocal carrier as needed. In terms of cost per gigabyte, it’s lower than many such services from other major U.S. carriers and it’s significantly easier to top up and maintain on the road. That said, if you prefer the consistency of a prepaid or postpaid SIM card account, it does have a SIM card slot for just that use case.
What you should consider: It does work in many other countries, but the data allowances are considerably less once you leave the U.S.
Where to buy: Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This is one of the first hotspots with 5G connectivity and one of the overall fastest currently available to consumers.
What you’ll love: If price is no object and you demand the absolute peak of performance, the M2000 is probably right for you. Its 5G connectivity will realistically outperform even the vast majority of stationary home internet connections in terms of bandwidth and latency. An integrated Wi-Fi 6 router allows the M2000 to take advantage of the most high-tech features on the most recent mobile devices. We can’t think of a real-world application where this particular model wouldn’t excel.
What you should consider: For at least 6 months, it’s locked to the T-Mobile network. With time and some in-depth customer service navigation, you’ll be able to overcome that and unlock it for worldwide use on any GSM network.
Where to buy: Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.