With the Netgear Zing, also known as the AirCard 771S, Sprint now has its first mobile hotspot with a touch screen. Available for $49 after a $50 rebate, the tri-band Zing allows for 10 simultaneously connected devices over 4G LTE and packs an intuitive touch-enabled home screen that puts your network's important information front and center. However, with other hotspots available for next to nothing, is the Zing worth taking on the road?
The Zing is rectangular with smooth, rounded edges and a 2.4-inch 320 x 240 QVGA color touch screen in the center. At 4.3 x 2.7 x 0.6 inches, the Zing is longer and wider than the Sprint MiFi 500 LTE (3.9 in x 2.4 in x 0.7 inches) but still slid comfortably into our pockets.
A silver ring of plastic wraps around the Zing. The bottom edge contains a microUSB port for charging, and an enclosed SIM card slot, while the power button sits on the top edge. The hotspot's 2500 mAh Li-ion battery can be removed easily by popping off the back panel.
We found the 4-ounce Zing comfortable to hold, thanks to the dark gray soft-touch material that makes up the device's front and back covers, as well as the slight incline from the hotspot's edge to its screen.
A quick tap of the Zing's power button illuminates its 2.4-inch touch screen. The device's main screen is laid out neatly, with reception, battery life and alerts on the top and Wi-Fi name and password toward the center. A convenient data usage meter sits in the middle of the screen, with Devices, Wi-Fi and Settings menus under it.
The Netgear Zing allows for up to 10 devices to be connected at once over 4G LTE, and users can monitor and block any connected products by tapping the Devices icon. The Wi-Fi menu allows hotspot users to enable guest Wi-Fi for visitors and change the device's network name and password.
Zing owners can change a variety of system settings, including screen brightness, network mode, sleep settings and GPS functionality. Users can also get a more detailed summary of their data usage by tapping the arrow on the main screen's data meter. If you prefer to monitor your connected devices from your smartphone, there is a free Netgear AirCard app for iOS, Android and Kindle.
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On the East Side of Manhattan, the Zing delivered an average download speed of 6.68 Mbps and an upload speed of 4.16 Mbps using Speedtest.net. The Sprint MiFi 500 LTE performed slightly worse when tested at the same time and at the same location, with an average download speed of 6.4 Mbps and an upload speed of 3 Mbps. The Zing's speed results were similar to the AT&T MiFi Liberate (5.9 Mbps down / 4.7 Mbps up).
The Zing also performed well in our real-world test. We downloaded the 140MB OpenOffice installer in 3 minutes and 27 seconds. That's almost identical to the MiFi 500 LTE (3:26).
Sprint currently offers 4G LTE coverage in 151 areas in the United States, including major cities such as Miami, Atlanta and Chicago. We tested our Zing in Midtown Manhattan, though Sprint's website lists only the Bronx, Brooklyn, Flushing, Jamaica, Staten Island and Yonkers as New York's officially covered areas. You might want to opt for an AT&T or Verizon device if wide 4G LTE coverage is a priority.
The Zing is more than capable of lasting through a long day of Web browsing. The device's 2,500 mAh battery lasted a fantastic 13 hours and 15 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via LTE). The Zing lasted more than five hours longer than the Sprint MiFi 500 LTE (7:59), but fell short of the Verizon Jetpack 5510L's colossal battery life of 14 hours and 43 minutes.
The Zing can be purchased with a two-year contract for $49.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate. Plans for the device start at $34.99 a month plus taxes and fees for 3GB of combined 3G and 4G data. The next step up is a $49.99 plan with 6GB of combined data, as well as a $79.99 plan with 12GB.
With an intuitive touch-screen interface, sleek and comfy design, and excellent battery life, the Netgear Zing is a solid choice at $49. While its battery life is shorter, the MiFi 500 LTE is free with a two-year contract. Those who travel a lot should also take a look at the larger coverage areas of Verizon and AT&T, as Sprint's 4G LTE availability is somewhat limited for now. Still, Sprint customers looking for the greatest endurance from a mobile hotspot will like what the Netgear Zing has to offer.