Though late to the 4G LTE party, Sprint is busy adding cities to its rollout, with 151 markets currently covered and more to come. Users who want to get their laptops, tablets and other devices onto this growing high-speed network have a compelling choice in the new MiFi 500 LTE. This lightweight and easy-to-use mobile hotspot is free with a two-year contract and lasts all day on a charge.
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If you want to change the Wi-Fi password, limit the number of devices, control how long the screen stays on or enable the MiFi 500 to share location data with devices, you must enter the Web interface in your browser. Although that interface provides more control over the hotspot, it's also fairly spartan, with just a handful of buttons and tabs to click.
Our favorite setting that's exclusive to the Web interface is Stealth mode, which disables all lights on the MiFi 500, including the blinking status light, so that other people won't know it's on. This feature could come in handy when you don't want to disturb or distract others around you.
We've seen stronger average speeds in the past from such Verizon hotspots as the Jetpack 5510L, which got an average download speed of 21.75 Mbps and upload speed of 10.02 Mbps. However, AT&T's MiFi Liberate was a bit weaker in Manhattan, providing average speeds of 5.9 Mbps down and 4.7 Mbps up.
However, in a real-world downloading test, the MiFi 500 really shined. It took just 1 minute and 51 seconds to download the 140MB OpenOffice installer. That's less than half the time the Verizon Jetpack took (6:27) and just a quarter of the time the AT&T MiFi Liberate took in its fastest location (8:00).
As of this writing, Sprint blankets 151 U.S. markets with its 4G LTE signal. Some of the larger cities include Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas and Boston. However, though we tested our MiFi 500 in Manhattan, only the Bronx and Brooklyn are officially listed by Sprint as covered markets. Users who want more thorough nationwide coverage should consider AT&T or Verizon, both of which cover all the major metropolitan areas.
Sprint's hotspot data plans start at $34.99 for 3GB of monthly data and rise up to $49.99 for 6GB and $79.99 for 12GB. Verizon charges $30 per month plus a $20 line charge (for a total of $50/month) for 4GB of data on its LTE network, while AT&T charges $50 for its 5GB plan. Users who are happy with a modest amount of monthly data should consider Sprint's 3GB plan, while those who plan to download a lot of media files will want the 6GB plan that adds up to a reasonable $8.33 per GB.
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