May 17, 2012, 9:22 PM — Dedicated mobile hotspots have been around for a few years now, but they've gotten progressively easier to use. And with the advent of 4G service, they've become notably faster, capable of connecting to more devices, and just a lot more useful.
We decided to compare the latest and greatest mobile hotspots from the two national 4G LTE providers in the United States, AT&T and Verizon. We lined up Verizon's new MiFi 4620L Jetpack LTE hotspot against AT&T's Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G (by Sierra Wireless) to see which one worked better.
While Mark tested the Verizon device, Ed tested the AT&T hotspot; afterward, we compared notes. After all was said and done, we agreed that both hotspots were impressive. Here's how our head-to-head review breaks down, feature by feature.
Size and Design
The MiFi 4620L Jetpack measures about 3.75 by 2.5 by 0.5 inches, and weighs 3.2 ounces with the smaller battery in. The Elevate 4G is a little chunkier than other hotspots we've tried, measuring 0.7 inch thick. It also weighs a bit more (3.6 ounces); in a bag full of devices, however, the Elevate 4G's extra weight will be almost unnoticeable.
The range of the Wi-Fi network each hotspot creates is 33 feet; you can connect a device from as far as 100 feet away if it's in the direct line of sight.
The MiFi 4620L Jetpack automatically tries to connect with Verizon's 4G LTE network, and, failing that, will connect with the carrier's 3G CDMA (1xEvDO Rev. A). In its 4G mode, you can connect up to ten devices to the MiFi 4620L Jetpack (but only five if it's in 3G mode). The Elevate 4G works the same way, except that it steps down to AT&T's HSPA+ service if LTE isn't available.
Mobile hotspots' biggest problem has been their weak battery life, which keeps them from being mobile for very long. With earlier models, 3 hours of usage time away from the charger is about all you could expect to get on a good day.
Unfortunately, neither the MiFi 4620L Jetpack nor the Elevate 4G seems to offer much improvement in this area. Both devices' batteries lasted for about 4 hours of continuous video streaming in our tests.
Novatel, which makes the MiFi 4620L Jetpack, says Verizon will soon sell a larger battery as an accessory, but we've heard no word on availability or price.
Winner: Elevate 4G
At first glance, the MiFi 4620L Jetpack's display looks like a vast improvement over those of earlier MiFi devices: It's larger, backlit, easier to read, and more detailed.