Best Mobile Hotspot Devices of 2020
There was a time when the internet was stuck running through wires and cables (how quaint!). But that time is long gone. Wireless internet is the future, and it’s time to get onboard.
One of the best ways to get wireless internet on all of your devices, rather than just your phone, is to get a dedicated Wi-Fi hotspot device. Dedicated hotspot devices offer higher performance than most phones when used as hotspots, and they don’t drain your precious phone battery.
These are the best hotspot devices available right now.
But before we talk more specifically about the best mobile hotspot devices, let’s cover the basics. How do these things work?
How hotspot devices work
A dedicated hotspot device picks up a signal from cell phone towers in your area, much like your phone does. The device then runs the raw data through a modem and creates a Wi-Fi network. You can connect to the network from your laptop, tablet, cell phone, or other device. Voila! You have the internet.
Dedicated hotspot devices use SIM cards, just like your phone. You have to buy a plan through the cell phone carrier and then insert the SIM card into the device.
Let’s talk about the machines that make the magic happen.
Best for Verizon: Jetpack 8800L
A worthy investment for those who want a top of the line hotspot
- Best modem technology
- Lots of built-in features
- Good battery life
- Cheap looking build
What we like
Verizon boasts the best coverage in the nation, making it the ideal carrier for those who want to work or play on the road using a hotspot. The Jetpack MiFi 8800L dedicated hotspot device will help you get the most out of your 4G LTE data on Verizon’s network.
Best modem technology
Yes, your hotspot device uses a modem to connect to the internet. It’s kind of like that old 56k modem you used back in 1996, but it’s a lot faster (and quieter). And the Jetpack 8800L uses the best modem of any Wi-Fi hotspot on the market.
Introducing the Qualcomm X20 modem. This puppy comes with Licenced Assisted Access, 5 GHz frequency, and tons of compatible bands. In short: it’s fast. Fast enough for streaming video, downloading files, and even playing online games.
Tons of features
Mobile hotspots will never be able to compete with smartphones when it comes to features. But you still want your dedicated hotspot device to do a few tricks (fetch, hotspot!).
The Jetpack 8800L offers up a cornucopia of nifty features. It has a built-in GPS, VPN client, and firewall. You can create multiple networks, including a guest network. Extra security features include port forwarding, port filtering, and MAC filtering.
This device also gives you a touchscreen, two external antenna ports, and two USB ports. Buying the Jetpack 8800L is kind of like getting a brand new car with all the extra bells and whistles (OK, it might not be quite as cool as a new car).
Another option is to check out satellite internet providers.
Good battery life
One of the major benefits of using a dedicated mobile hotspot device instead of your phone is that creating a Wi-Fi network expends a ton of battery power. You want to save your phone’s battery life for more important things, like streaming that new Rihanna album.
The Jetpack 8800L has impressive battery life, lasting an estimated 15 hours. Some have reported that the device lasted two days with heavy use, on a single charge. And it’s easy to charge in your car, with a wall socket, or your computer using the USB-C port.
What we don’t like
This Jetpack really sets the standard for 4G LTE hotspot devices, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Here’s where we nitpick about the things we don’t like.
If you want to buy the Jetpack 8800L straight up, it will run you about $200. That’s more than twice the cost of other premium hotspot devices.
Luckily, you can usually get the device for about $100 if you sign up for a Verizon plan, like this one. The catch is that you’ll be locked into a contract.
Cheap looking build
The build of your Wi-Fi network device might not matter much to you. But we did expect a $200 machine to look more, well, fancy. The clunky, lightweight plastic build makes the Jetpack 8800L feel more like a discount Asus laptop than a Macbook.
There are a few other hotspot devices that you might want to consider if the Jetpack is out of your price range. One is the Verizon Ellipsis Jetpack MHS900L, which is basically a cheaper version of the 8800L that has fewer features and a less powerful modem.
You can also opt for the Verizon Global Modem USB730L for a small, USB plug-in device that gets you online from basically anywhere in the world.
Best for AT&T: Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot
A fast hotspot for a fast mobile network
- Fast speeds
- Great battery life
- Sleek design
What we like
AT&T may not have the coverage range of Verizon, but it wins the gold when it comes to data speeds. With mobile hotspots data speeds really matter. Having a super-fast 4G LTE connection means you can really rely on your hotspot for everything, from gaming to working.
The Nighthawk LTE mobile hotspot is the premier device for those who want to harness AT&T’s powerful network. Here’s what makes it hands-down one of the best mobile hotspots.
Running AT&T’s network through a slow hotspot device is like driving a Lamborghini on a residential street with a 25 MPH speed limit. It’s just not right. But using the Nighthawk LTE is like taking that sports car on the autobahn, where it can really shine.
Theoretically, the Nighthawk can reach speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, which is probably way faster than your home internet connection. But, in practice, not even AT&T’s network will get you speeds that fast. You’ll probably be getting closer to 30 Mbps. But that’s nothing to scoff at.
With 30 Mbps you can easily stream shows, play online games, and download files. You’ll have a hard time finding faster mobile network speeds, unless of course you’re working with a 5G network (we’ll talk more about that below).
Great battery life
The last thing you need is a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot device that conks out after a couple of hours. It sort of defeats the purpose of mobile.
You can use the Nighthawk LTE for a full 24 hours before it needs a charge. That’s 24 episodes of Westworld you can watch. Or 76 episodes of The Office. Or like 1,000 TikTok videos. Whatever floats your boat.
Sure, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate a beautiful cover when you see it. The Nighthawk LTE mobile hotspot has a nice, compact, sleek looking build that makes you feel like you’re working with some grade-A technology.
Though the simplicity does come at a cost: there’s no touchscreen interface so you have to operate the Nighthawk using another device.
What we don’t like
We love finding things to complain about. Sadly, we could only muster a single complaint about the Nighthawk: price.
At a full retail price of $250, the Nighthawk LTE is the most expensive device on this list. The cost will be worth it for those who really want the best of the best. But for many others it will be a deal breaker. You could get a pair of Airpods or an Apple watch for less.
If you’re signing up for a new plan with AT&T, or upgrading an existing line, then you can pay for the device in installments, which may lessen the financial burden.
AT&T does sell a couple of other hotspot devices. There’s one called Unite Express 2, which is about $100 cheaper than the Nighthawk, but has less than half the battery life and less advanced modem technology.
Then there’s the Harman Spark, which can connect to your car to turn it into a powerful mobile hotspot (basically like the car from Knight Rider).
Best for T-Mobile: Alcatel LinkZone 2
A cheap hotspot for those who don’t need a ton of speed
- Good battery life
- Slower speeds
- Inconvenient design
What we like
Since its merger with Sprint was announced, T-Mobile has been beefing up its network, plans, and hardware. But one thing the company hasn’t updated is its flagship mobile hotspot device. The Alcatel LinkZone 2 is a bit older and clunkier than the best mobile hotspots from other carriers.
However, there are still some features that make this hotspot worth looking into if you’re on the T-Mobile network.
As you might expect with an older hotspot device, the price is pretty low. In fact, at just around $90, the Alcatel LinkZone 2 costs less than half the price of the other devices in this article. If you’re just looking for a device to hold you over until 5G hotspots rollout in the near future, this is an affordable option.
Good battery life
Another thing that LinkZone 2 gets right is the battery life. The device’s 4400 mAh battery can easily last a full day of heavy use. That’s clutch when you’re trying to work while you’re on the road.
What we don’t like
The Alcatel LinkZone 2 is like one of those old brick phones from Nokia. It’s cheap and has awesome battery life. But using it in today’s world will present some problems.
The LinkZone 2 sports a much less advanced modem than the other devices we’ve featured here. It uses the Qualcomm MDM9207 chipset, which means that it can’t keep up with even lower-end smartphones in terms of data speeds.
If you’re looking for a hotspot that’s going to let you game, stream HD movies, and conduct meetings over Zoom, then you should probably go with another network.
Not only does the LinkZone 2 lack a touchscreen, but it lacks a display screen altogether. You have to use a web portal to even see what’s going on with your device. And once you get to this web portal, you’ll find frustratingly few user options.
You cannot make a guest network on the LinkZone 2. And you can only have one frequency, either 2. 4GHz 802.11n or 5 GHz 802.11ac. You can’t have both at the same time.
T-Mobile also offers the slightly cheaper Franklin T9 Mobile Hotspot. But with a weaker battery life and even cheaper overall design, it’s not worth the minimal cost savings. If you really want a top-notch mobile hotspot experience on the T-Mobile network, you’ll either have to wait till 5G devices roll out, or use a smartphone.
Best for 5G: 5G Smartphone
If you were looking for an excuse to buy a 5G phone, here it is
- All-in-one device
- 5G speeds
- Costs a lot
- Battery life
What we like
5G is here. Well, actually, it depends on where “here” is for you. But it’s in most major metropolitan areas, and coming to many more as you read this. However, even the best mobile hotspots haven’t quite caught up with this new reality.
So, if you want 5G speeds on a mobile hotspot, your best bet is actually to use a 5G capable phone, like these ones.
While buying a brand new smartphone may not be the cheapest way to get online, it does have its perks. For one: you get a new phone. That’s awesome.
It’s always convenient to have an all-in-one device that can make calls, surf the web, run apps, and help you connect your laptop to the internet.
The biggest downside is the cost. 5G phones can cost up to a thousand dollars or more. Yikes. Be sure to check for the latest deals so that you don’t spend more than you have to.
One other downside to using your phone as a mobile hotspot is that it will drain the battery. Most of us want to save that sweet sweet juice for more important things (like scrolling through Instagram).
Recap: What’s the best hotspot for you?
Let’s run through that lineup one more time. Here are the best hotspots available on the market.
- Best for Verizon: The Jetpack 8800L is a phenomenal device that can reach peak 4G LTE speeds. The biggest problem is the price tag.
- Best for AT&T: Pickup the Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot if you want a premium device on the AT&T network. You’ll get top-notch speeds and performance. Of course, it costs a pretty penny.
- Best for T-Mobile: The Alcatel LinkZone 2 is the weakest device on this list, but it’s still the best one for T-Mobile customers. Fortunately, it’s also the cheapest hotspot featured here.
- Best for Speed: If you want to harness 5G speeds with a hotspot device, your best bet is actually to buy a 5G smartphone. Hopefully standalone 5G devices will be out in the near future so we can save our phone batteries!
We hope this review of the best hotspot devices helps you get connected, no matter where you are. Don’t forget to pair your device with a great mobile hotspot plan!