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What's the Best Way To Surf Verizon's 4G LTE Network?

In the  scheme of all things 4G, Verizon's blazing fast LTE network is ahead of everything else. The carrier offers a bunch of ways to access the network that's up to 10 times faster than 3G. Just last week we reviewed the Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot SCH-LC11, a pocket-sized router that shares 4G access with up to five gadgets. But is that the best way to go? We decided to compare that hotspot to two other LTE products: the HTC Thunderbolt smart phone (which can work as a mobile hotspot) and the LG VL600 USB broadband modem.

So what option gives you the fastest speeds? Check the numbers below.

Thunderbolt 4G Smart Phone (Tethered)LG VL600 4G LTE USB ModemThunderbolt 4G Smart Phone (Hotspot Mode)Samsung 4G LTE Hotspot
Average 19.7 Mbps28.4 Mbps16 Mbps19.4 Mbps

With an average download speed of 28.4 Mbps, the LG VL600 performed much faster than the Samsung 4G hotspot and the Thunderbolt in hotspot mode. A connection that fast could download an 1100MB video file, about the size of a two-hour movie, in 5 minutes and 10 seconds.

Interestingly, the second fastest device was the Thunderbolt tethered to the notebook via USB.  Using that method, we saw average downloads of 19.7 Mbps, enough speed to tackle that 1100MB video file in a still impressive 7 minutes and 27 seconds.

Thunderbolt 4G Smart Phone (Tethered)LG VL600 4G LTE USB ModemThunderbolt 4G Smart Phone (Hotspot Mode)Samsung 4G LTE Hotspot
Average 5.5 Mbps4.7 Mbps3.2 Mbps5.2 Mbps

When it comes to upload speeds, the Thunderbolt (in tethered mode) performed the fastest, followed by the Samsung 4G LTE  mobile hotspot.  The LG VL600 came in third, and the Thunderbolt in hotspot mode was last, although its rate of 3.2 Mbps is still faster than anything you'll find from AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile.

Depending on your 4G needs, here's a quick overview to decide which product might work best for you.

LG VL600 USB Modem ($99)

Who it's For: Call it a 4G magic wand. The LG VL600 USB modem delivered the fastest LTE downloads  in our tests (it placed third in uploads with 4.7 Mbps), but what's the sacrifice for such electric speed? First, the LG VL600 (or one of Verizon's other two options) works with one notebook at a time, so if you want to supply a staff or a team of people with internet access, it's best to opt for the Samsung 4G LTE hotspot. With a length of 3.5 inches, the LG VL600 also sticks out a bit from the USB port.

An additional positive is that the USB modem is powered by your notebook, making for one less gadget to fret over charging. Don't forget Verizon charges either $50 for 5GB of monthly data or $80 for 10GB, and overage fees are $10 per extra GB.

The Good:  Delivers the fastest speeds. No charging required.

The Bad: Can't share 4G connection with multiple devices. Bulky design.

Samsung 4G LTE SCH-LC11 Hotspot ($99)

Who it's For: The LC11 is a good fit for a mobile team that needs high speed connectivity beyond local Wi-Fi or just someone who travels with multiple Wi-Fi gadgets. The hotspot was the third fastest device in our tests, pulling down 19.4 Mbps (which could finish a 1100MB movie file in 7 minutes and 35 seconds). In uploads, it pulled an impressive second place win with 5.2 Mbps. Plus, the hotspot is about the size of a business card, weighs less than a wallet, and offers a connection range up to 30 feet, so it can be used comfortably just about anywhere.

Like many 4G devices, however, battery life is a big issue. The SCH-LC11 lasted 3 hours and 27 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (we connected one notebook and surfed the web constantly until the SCH-LC11 ran out of steam). That's not enough juice to get even one connected device through a full workday. If you're thinking of sharing with a group often, be careful, you may hit the 10GB ceiling quickly.

The Good: Supports five devices. Portable. Lots of flexibility. Fast upload speeds.

The Bad: Battery life not great--and lacks battery meter. Can't use it while tethered to notebook.

HTC Thunderbolt ($249)

Who it's For: The Thunderbolt is good for people looking for the fastest 4G speeds on a phone yet, speeds you can share with up to 8 devices. The device loaded web pages in just a few seconds and offered stutter-free YouTube video.

In hotspot mode, the Thunderbolt clocked in a download average of 16 Mbps and an upload average of 3.2 Mbps Those were the slowest results in our tests, but they still beat other 4G networks. In USB mode, the Thunderbolt uploaded data with the fastest (5.5 Mbps) and  pulled down the second fastest average downloads, 19.7 Mbps.

The HTC Thunderbolt lasted 3 hours and 48 minutes in hotspot mode That's longer than the Samsung LC11 hotspot's span of 3 hours and 27 minutes, but we didn't use Thunderbolt's screen during that time. That kind of stamina is helpful for getting online with a tablet or notebook while out and about, or for sharing connectivity with co-workers or friends. However, heavy users will need to find an outlet by mid-day.

Verizon is offering free unlimited 4G for smart phones until May 15 (afterwards it will cost $20 a month for 2GB of data).

The Good: Free, unlimited 4G for now. Can share connection with up to 8 devices in hotspot mode. Tethering returns some misplaced power.

The Bad: Slower speeds that other devices in hotspot mode. 4G will cost an additional $20 for 2GB after May 15. Phone is expensive.

What Should You Get?

If you're a Verizon Wireless customer and want to make the jump to 4G or you're a new subscriber considering LTE, you have three types of devices from which to choose. For notebook users who don't want or need to share an Internet connection with other gadgets, a USB modem like the LGVL600 is a solid choice. It offered the fastest download speeds, and you don't have to worry about your phone running out of juice in a hurry. You can also pick up the $49 Pantech UML290 for $49 or the $99 USB Modem 551L.

If you travel with more than one Wi-Fi device--like a notebook and an iPad--and you want to be able to share that 4G connection, you'll want to consider the Samsung LC11. It offers strong upload and download speeds, and it's easy to carry. However, you'll have to keep that charger handy.

What you get in the HTC Thunderbolt is even more versatility. This smart phone doesn't offer the fastest speeds in hotspot mode, but they're still quite good. Engaging hotspot will drain your battery, so you'll want to use the feature sparingly. The best part is that you get free 4G data until May 15th. After that you'll still pay a reasonable $20 per month for 2GB, versus the $50 Verizon charges for 5GB on its hotspot and USB modem.

What you'll need to ask yourself is whether you'll blow through that 2GB of extra data before the month is out. If the answer is yes, you might want to stick with a USB modem like the LG or a dedicated hotspot device like the Samsung.