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With working remotely becoming increasingly common, staying connected is more important than ever. A mobile hotspot is a portable device that creates WiFi from a cellular data plan, allowing you to connect your phone, tablet, laptop, or most any other device to Internet service when you need to be online.
This isn’t just for people on the road or encountering dead-zones when you need reception (though it’s great for that too). A hotspot can work well if your home WiFi goes down, is unreliable, or even if you don’t have it and don’t want to rely solely on cellular data (or smartphone “hotspot”) to connect.
What Are the Best Mobile Hotspots?
Here are a few things to consider when shopping for the best portable WiFi device (a.k.a. a mobile hotspot) online.
Plans: Once you purchase your portable hotspot, you’ll still need to sign up for a data plan to pair it with. Unfortunately, “unlimited” doesn’t always mean unlimited. Always read the fine print on a plan to know what your boundaries are. Some plans include enough data — around 100GB — that you’ll probably never use it up anyway, but it’s always better to have it in excess than be constantly worried if you’re going over the limit.
Other plans really do have unlimited data, but cap the speed at around 5mbps. It’s enough to get the basics done, like office-type tasks, emailing and streaming music, but for anything faster, it can quickly become lagging and frustrating. Wireless companies also give priority to their direct customers when it comes to download speeds, which means yours may be slowed down at peak times. Also: if you’ll be traveling all over the globe, go for one that can auto-connect to local networks in each country, bypassing the hassle of local SIM cards.
Devices: How many devices will you need set up and connected all at once? If it’s just one, a standard plan and less powerful hotspot might be fine. But if it’s multiple devices, or an entire family will need to use it, make sure your desired hotspot can handle the bandwidth. The best mobile hotspots can usually handle up to and around 20 devices, enough to keep your squad connected on a long trip.
Battery: When you’re away from a power source for long stretches, you’ll need a built-in battery that can last awhile. A typical Lithium-ion battery around 3000mAh should give you enough fuel for a full day, around 11 hours or so of continuous usage, while a 6000mAh nets about 18 hours, and even more in standby mode. With a powerful enough battery inside, you can also sometimes use your portable WiFi device as a battery itself, to charge up other devices when they’re running low.
Security: Having your own hotspot means you won’t need to connect to the networks around you while traveling, which can often be unsecured. A pre-encrypted hotspot with SSID and password protection takes security a step further, protecting your devices and personal data.
Ports: A mobile hotspot with ports, such as microSD or USB, means that you can stream media from an external flash or hard drive right to all the connected devices on the network. Having an Ethernet port lets you plug in to a trusted hardwired network, and of course a spot for a wall plug is vital to keep it fully charged.
Size: If you’ll be keeping this mostly stationary and set up in an office, having a large and bulky unit won’t matter as much. But for taking it traveling with you, small is best, and there’s plenty of size-wise options that won’t weigh you down. Some are even compact enough to fit in a pocket, making it ideal for staying online on the move.
1. NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 Mobile Hotspot
A 2.4-inch LED screen built right into this portable WiFi device shows real-time data usage and signal strength, and the 5040mAH battery can usually last a whole day, even under heavy strain.
A USB port is included and ideal for things like sharing data from a flash drive or external hard drive, along with an Ethernet and USB-C ports as well. And at only 0.53 pounds, this won’t weigh down your backpack or suitcase.
2. TP-Link N300 Portable Travel Router
This little device keeps you connected on the go, and is tiny enough to fit into any laptop bag, purse, or even a pocket.
You’ll be able to create your own privately-routed WiFi network, keeping your devices safe and separate from publicly-accessed networks such as hotels and parks.
Integrating with third party products like Chromecast and Amazon Fire Stick is easy for streaming anywhere at up to 300mbps, and all your devices automatically connect to it after the first time, every time.
It can also be used as a WiFi bridge, range extender, and there’s an Ethernet port for wired connection too.
3. INSEEGO M2000 ON The GO Ultimate Hotspot
With a 2.4-inch touchscreen color display, this 5G hotspot is easy for any user, with a familiar interface that lets you see things like who’s connected and how much data is being downloaded.
This supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, automatically selecting which works best for the activity you’re doing. It’s also secure too, with WPA3, VPN passthrough, and individualized encryption.
Not only does this have a massive 5050mAh battery, it is a battery as well – you can use this as a power bank to fuel up a device that’s running low. And if your 5G connection drops out, you’ll still have fast Internet, as the hotspot defaults to 4G speeds.
4. ZTE MAX Connect Mobile WiFi Hotspot
Stay connected all over the world with this hotspot that works with a plethora of plan options. The unlocked ZTE Max supports dual-band WiFi connection (2.4 GHz and 5GHz), and can hit download speeds of 150mbps.
Four LED indicators easily show you how much battery is left, along with signal strength, and can handle up to ten devices at once. The 2000mAh battery can last up to 10 hours continuously, or remain in standby mode for up to a week – perfect for long trips when it’s packed away.