Best Mobile Hotspots for Gaming
A mobile hotspot is a great way for gamers to access the internet remotely, so they can play from just about anywhere you can get a cell signal. Here are four mobile hotspots to consider if you’re on the AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon networks.
There’s nothing wrong with playing a video game all alone (heaven knows I’ve spent a million hours playing Final Fantasy games by myself). But we’re in the 2020s now, and to get the best gaming experience you’ll want to get online to play with others.
The easiest way to get online is to have a great home internet service. But if that’s not an option for you because you’re in a rural area or you’re constantly on the go, then you should invest in a quality mobile hotspot device that will keep you gaming from coast to coast.
We’re going to review the hotspot devices that will keep you in the game, no matter where you are.
What to look for in a mobile hotspot
Before we jump into the reviews, we should quickly go over how dedicated mobile hotspots work.
Most mobile hotspots will only work with a specific network. For example, the Nighthawk LTE that we’re about to talk about only works on AT&T—unless you manage to unlock the device, in which case it may work on T-Mobile, but you shouldn’t count on that. So you’ll want to make sure that the device you’re buying is on a network you like.
You’ll also want to make sure that the network has a great mobile hotspot plan that gives you enough data to fuel your gaming habit. Without that, the device is just a useless (and expensive) plastic brick.
Best performance: NETGEAR Nighthawk LTE
A premium all-around hotspot for gamers on AT&T
- Fast speeds
- Great battery life
- Uses AT&T network
- Sleek design
- Pricier than most
What we like
If you’re looking for a solid, reliable, and fast mobile hotspot, then the sleek NETGEAR Nighthawk LTE should definitely be on your list of devices to consider. Let’s talk through the details.
The Nighthawk can reach a whopping speed of 1,000 Mbps. But that’s like saying you can drive 1,000 miles per hour on the autobahn. It’s technically possible, but no one is really going that fast. More likely, you’ll end up getting speeds around 30–40 Mbps.
But that’s plenty of speed for gaming. You shouldn’t experience any latency or lag with that kind of speed on most games. Of course, if you’re a pro gamer (or want to become one), then you might want to invest in a super-fast 5G hotspot, which we’ll review in a moment here. Otherwise, the Nighthawk will do the trick.
There’s not much point in having a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot if it dies after just a couple hours of use. Luckily, you can count on the Nighthawk LTE for a full 24 hours. That’s enough time to play like 150 matches in Call of Duty. Nice.
Works on AT&T network
Nighthawk LTE users will have to be on the AT&T network. But if you’ve got to be stuck on one mobile network, AT&T ain’t a bad choice.
AT&T’s network has great coverage (coming in just behind Verizon) and fast data speeds (trailing T-Mobile by just a few Mbps). Gamers shouldn’t have an issue finding fast and reliable speeds with the Nighthawk on the AT&T network.
This is the last thing we’ll say about the Nighthawk, we promise. We just have to mention that it’s a beautifully designed hotspot. This little black square looks and feels like grade-A technology, which it is. So you can look fashionable while you’re pwning the n00bs.
What we don’t like
What could we possibly complain about? Oh, wait, we found something: the price!
If you buy the Nighthawk LTE mobile hotspot at retail price, we’ve seen the cost vary from $290 to about $350. That’s a lot of dough, especially considering the fact that you’ll have to pay for your monthly data plan on top of that.
But if you’re signing up for a new unlimited data plan to power your hotspot, you might be able to cut a deal. For example, if you get the AT&T Unlimited Extra plan (featured below), you can get the Nighthawk LTE for as little as $8.34 a month. Woohoo! You’ve got to love payment plans.
Best price: Alcatel LinkZone 2
A cheap hotspot for those on T-Mobile’s network who don’t need the fastest speeds
- Great network
- Weaker modem
- Inconvenient design
What we like
With a price hovering around $90, the Alcatel LinkZone 2 is less than half the price of other flagship hotspot devices, like the Nighthawk (which we just talked about) and the Jetpack 8800L (which we’ll review in a moment).
If you’re looking for a good-enough device to hold you over until you switch to 5G, then this is the way to go.
The LinkZone 2 will work on T-Mobile’s network. That now includes folks who are still on retired Sprint plans and those who use T-Mobile MVNOs, like Metro. T-Mobile’s network actually has the fastest 4G LTE data speeds in the industry.
Of course, your data speeds will vary depending on where you’re located and what kind of plan you’re using.
What we don’t like
As you might expect, there are some drawbacks to this budget device. Let’s review the not-so-great features of the Alcatel LinkZone 2.
Having a fast mobile network is just part of the speed equation when it comes to mobile hotspots. The other part of the equation is your device’s modem. Unfortunately, the LinkZone 2 sports a less advanced modem than its competitors.
This device uses the Qualcomm MDM9207 chipset. This means you’ll likely get a top speed of about 30 Mbps, even though T-Mobile’s network is capable of much higher speeds.
30 Mbps is going to be enough for some casual gaming in WoW or Minecraft. But if you’re a competitive Fortnite player, then you might want to go with another device on this list.
We’ve got one more complaint about the LinkZone 2: the design. This hotspot doesn’t come with a touch screen. In fact, it doesn’t even have a display screen. Instead, you have to use a web portal to see what’s going on with the hotspot, change settings, and troubleshoot problems.
Best coverage: Verizon Jetpack 8800L
A top-notch Verizon hotspot with amazing coverage and tons of perks
- Powerful modem technology
- Amazing network coverage
- Tons of features
- Good battery life
- Cheap-looking build
What we like
Powerful modem technology
The Jetpack utilizes a powerful Qualcomm X20 modem. This modem is equipped with all kinds of fancy features, like Licensed Assisted Access, 5GHz frequency, and tons of compatible bands. To put that into plain English: this puppy is fast. Very fast.
Amazing network coverage
We already told you that Verizon’s network (on which the Jetpack 8800L functions) has the best mobile coverage in the nation, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Just check out this coverage map.
As you can see, Verizon will get you 4G LTE coverage in every major city and in tons of rural areas too. Are you playing Destiny 2 in your RV during a road trip? Yes, I am, thank you very much.
Tons of features
Having a bunch of fancy features on your mobile hotspot is not the most important thing. But it sure is nice.
The Jetpack 8800L comes with a touch screen, two external antenna ports and two USB ports. That’s all very nice, but it’s the internal features that are really great.
This device comes equipped with a built-in GPS, VPN client, and firewall. You’ll get security features like port forwarding, port filtering, and MAC filtering. Plus, you can create multiple Wi-Fi networks. Now that’s what I call a hotspot device.
Good battery life
One final positive note Jetpack hotspot: it’s got pretty impressive battery power. You should get about 15 hours of juice on this device, plus it’s easy to charge pretty much anywhere using the USB-C port.
What we don’t like
There’s plenty to love about the Jetpack 8800L, but that doesn’t mean it’s flawless. The biggest issue that most folks will have with the device is the price tag.
At $200+ dollars, the Jetpack 8800L is on the expensive side for 4G LTE hotspot devices. It’s almost as pricey as buying an Xbox One, and you can’t even play Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla on it!
There is one way to save some dough on the Jetpack, and that’s to get a new unlimited data plan from Verizon. The company will usually discount the hotspot device by about $100 when you sign up.
Best 5G hotspot: Inseego MiFi M2100 5G UW
A super-fast hotspot for those who live in an area with Verizon’s 5G coverage
- 5G speeds
- Connect up to 30 devices
- 5G coverage is limited
What we like
People have been talking about 5G technology for a while now, but, to be honest, it hasn’t always lived up to the hype. However, that’s starting to change. 5G coverage is expanding across the nation and new 5G devices are being released, like the Inseego MiFi M2100 5G UW—sheesh, that’s a long name, so we’ll just call it the M2100 for short.
Here’s what we love about the M2100.
The most obvious advantage of having a 5G hotspot (and a 5G capable mobile plan to fuel it) is the lightning fast speeds. How fast, you ask? Try 1,000 Mbps. Yep, a recent speed test in Denver recorded Verizon 5G speeds at 988.37 Mbps. That’s like 30 times faster than 4G LTE speeds.
To be very clear: you will not get those kinds of speeds everywhere. In fact, most of the nation is not equipped with the necessary millimeter-wave infrastructure for it, and some rural areas probably never will be.
But there is another kind of 5G, called ultra-wideband, that you’ll be able to pick up in more areas. This will still deliver very fast data speeds, but they won’t be anywhere near the gigabit speeds that you can get in some urban settings.
Connect up to 30 devices
Normal dedicated mobile hotspot devices can tether to a few other devices—like four or five—but this powerful machine can tether to up to 30 devices! Yep, you can keep an entire home, office, or classroom connected with this puppy.
What we don’t like
So the M2100 is clearly a powerful hotspot. But there are some downsides to jumping on the 5G bandwagon this early in the game.
The Inseego MiFi M2100 5G UW will cost you a cool $400. Yes, you read that right, this hotspot costs four Benjamins, 400 clams, forty thousand pennies—or almost the same cost as a PS5.
While this might seem outrageous for such a small device, it’s actually cheaper than the competition (which would be NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro). This is just what happens when you’re on the cutting edge of a new technology. For many people, it will be worth waiting a few years until prices are lower and 5G networks are more robust. Speaking of 5G networks …
5G coverage is limited
As we mentioned above, 5G’s awesome speeds are tempered by its limited range. In most parts of the country, you won’t get a real 5G signal. Instead, your M2100 will pick up 4G LTE signal. While that signal will still do the trick for most casual gaming, it’s not the reason you shelled out so much cash for this fancy device.
Alternative options for 5G hotspot: your phone
If you’re not ready to invest in a standalone 5G hotspot, but you still want those sweet 5G speeds, then you might want to upgrade your phone instead. The newest lines of phones from Apple, Samsung, Google, and other companies are equipped with 5G technology, which means you can turn them into mobile hotspots.
The biggest downside to these devices is—you guessed it—the price. 5G phones can cost more than a grand. So make sure you check for the latest deals on new phones before you make a purchase.
Recap: What’s the best gaming hotspot for you?
So, which of these hotspots is best for keeping you online while you game? We’ll do a quick recap to help you decide.
- Best performance: The NETGEAR Nighthawk LTE mobile hotspot offers great speeds, long battery life, and access to AT&T’s broad mobile network. It’s the perfect all-around option.
- Best price: The Alcatel LinkZone 2 costs significantly less than other leading hotspots and it will get you on T-Mobile’s lightning fast network. If you’re willing to forgo some special features and put up with older modem technology, this is the way to go.
- Best coverage: The Verizon Jetpack 8800L connects you to Verizon’s incredible mobile network. With this hotspot you’ll get the best coverage available, and plenty of other great features, like long battery life, built-in VPN, and top-notch modem technology.
- Best 5G hotspot: Those who are ready to dive into the 5G world should check out the Inseego MiFi M2100 5G UW. It may cost a pretty penny, but this device will hook you up to network speeds that are probably faster than your home broadband connection.
Hopefully we’ve helped you figure out your next hotspot without too much hassle so that you can get back to more important things (like playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive). Don’t forget to pick up a great mobile hotspot plan to go along with your new device!
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