First hotspot with a touchscreen display; Easy-to-use interface; All-day battery life; Very good overall 4G LTE performance ; Can stream media from microSD card
Larger footprint than other hotspots; Requires shared data plan
AT&T's MiFi Liberate is the first mobile hotspot to sport a touchscreen interface, but its impressive battery life is the real star of the show.
Portable hotspots are utilitarian by nature. Their sole purpose is get you online and deliver fast speeds to your notebook, tablet or other Wi-Fi device. Well, now they've evolved way beyond mere wireless hockey pucks. Enter the $49.99 AT&T MiFi Liberate by Novatel Wireless. Sporting a full color touch screen display and an intuitive interface, the Liberate looks more like a smartphone than a hotspot. But that's not the only reason the Liberate is a winner. Read on to see why this is the hottest hotspot on AT&T's 4G LTE network.
The front edge of the hotspot features a microSD card slot and port cover. On the right side is a microUSB port, while the left side houses the hotspot's power button. Pop off the Liberate's battery cover (yes, the battery is removable) to easily access the hotspot's SIM card slot.
Measuring 4.1 x 2.9 x 0.9 inches and weighing 4.3 ounces, the Liberate is both larger and heavier than your typical mobile hotsport. For instance, the Elevate 4G for AT&T measures 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches and 3.6 ounces. However, while the Liberate is large, it never felt too big to carry around. In fact, Verizon's Jetpack 890L by ZTE is wider at 3.5 inches across and a 4.8 ounces.
An ever-present status bar at the top of the screen provides network status, the time, Wi-Fi status and battery level. The home screen houses 10 icons: Connection Details, Data Usage, Connected Devices, Settings, Messages, File Sharing, Media Center, GPS, Wi-Fi Protected Setup and About. Connection Details provides general information, including the hotspot's Wi-Fi password, security level and network name. Data Usage and Connected Devices menus include notes on your total data usage and number and types of devices connected to the Liberate, respectively.
Navigating the Liberate's user inteface is about as straightforward as it gets. You swipe to scroll through the hotspot's various menu options and tap to open them. You can toggle settings with a single tap. Novatel Wireless deserves credit for providing brief yet descriptive notes about what each option does.
AT&T's has been aggressively expanding its 4G LTE network over the past year, more than doubling its coverage from roughly 44 markets in 2011 to 88 in 2012. That's enough to get the carrier ranked in the number two spot among LTE carriers, behind Verizon, which has a whopping 440 markets. Sprint has 32 LTE markets and counting.
In our two New York locations, we saw average download speeds of roughly 5.9 Mbps and uploads of 4.7 Mbps using Speedtest.net. By comparison, AT&T's other hotspot, the Elevate 4G LTE, averaged download speeds of 6.7 Mbps and upload speeds of 3.1 Mbps.
The Liberate performed better during our stress tests, which included streaming an HD Hulu video on our laptop while measuring the hotspot's download and uploads speeds on a separate device. In New York, download speeds averaged 8.2 Mbps, while uploads averaged 5.1 Mbps. In New Jersey, downloads averaged 9.4 Mbps, while uploads averaged 2.4 Mbps.
The Elevate, meanwhile, saw average download speeds of 7.7 Mbps and uploads of 7.8 Mbps. In New Jersey, the Elevate averaged 18.9 Mbps down and 1.3 Mbps up.
One thing we noted during our speed tests was that both hotspots would occasionally hit speed walls, with downloads and uploads hovering around the 1 Mbps mark. These problems were remedied, however, with a quick restart.
Large File Downloads
Downloading the 145MB OpenOffice install file took an average of 16 minutes on the Liberate while in New York, and 8 minutes in New Jersey. The Elevate, meanwhile, was quicker to download files in New York (10 minutes), but was disappointingly slow in New Jersey, where it took 23 minutes to download OpenOffice.
AT&T's Elevate loaded CNN.com in an average of 5.5 seconds in the city and 4.1 seconds in Jersey, while NBCNews.com loaded in 3.9 seconds in New York and 2.4 in New Jersey. Bing loaded slightly faster using the Elevate, 0.8 seconds in N.Y. and 0.49 in N.J., while Laptopmag.com loaded in 14.1 seconds in New York and 2.5 seconds in New Jersey.
The Elevate, on the other hand, is currently priced at $0.99 with a two-year data plan. With the same 4GB two-year data plan, the Elevate will cost about $2,161.
Unfortunately, AT&T doesn't allow users to purchase individual data plans, but instead requires you to purchase a shared data plan. Instead, you can opt for a Data Device Plan, which gives you 5GB of 4G LTE data for $50 a month. Go over your data alottment and you'll end up paying an additional $10 per 1GB.
|VPN Support||VPN capability|
|Wireless Bands||2.4 GHz|
|Security Features||VPN pass-through, Wi-Fi Protected Setup, NAT Firewall, anti CSRF, session timeout, block retry attempts, administrative password.|
|Size||4.05 x 2.88 x 0.34 inches|