In 2009 Verizon introduced the MiFi 2200, the first mobile hotspot. This small business card-sized gadget could connect up to five notebooks, smart phones, or other devices to its 3G data network via Wi-Fi. Now the company is supercharging the concept with the Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot SCH-LC11 ($99 with a rebate and two-year contract), a 4G-enabled router that can connect users at nearly 10 times the speed of 3G. Should 4G fans embrace this new hotspot, or are there better ways to get on Verizon's LTE network?
At 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.5 inches, the LC11 is almost the same shape and size as the MiFi 2200 hotspot Verizon released two years ago. However, it's one-tenth of an inch thicker and weighs 3.0 ounces, as opposed to the MiFi's 2.1 ounces. The extra bulk and weight is understandable given that the LC11 has both an EV-DO and LTE radio.
The front of the LC11 is canvassed in smooth soft-touch rubber, and is decorated with brand logos for Samsung, Verizon, and 4G LTE. You'll also find a power button and three LED lights - one to indicate a 4G connection, another for 3G, and one to alert users that the wireless signal is available. Popping open the back plastic back reveals a rechargeable battery that sits on top of a 4G SIM card slot. Last but not least is a microUSB port for charging the hotspot via your notebook or the bundled power adapter. Unfortunately, the LC11 does not feature a microSD card slot for sharing files with any device connected to the hotspot like the upcoming Novatel 4G MiFi Intelligent Hotspot.
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Set Up and Control Panel
Similar to most hotspots, the LC11 was simple to activate. We pressed the power button for two seconds to turn on the device, then found the appropriate network in our computer's wireless manager, and entered the password. The process sounds fast, but the LC11 does require some patience here and there. It takes about 10 seconds for the card to boot and produce a Wi-Fi connection, and in much of our testing, it took another 30 to 60 seconds for our notebook to connect to the Internet. Unfortunately, while you can charge the LC11 using your notebook, the device doesn't support USB tethering, which often offers faster data speeds than a wireless connection. The new Novatel 4G hotspots not only share their Internet connection via USB, they also install all drivers and connection software to the PC automatically.
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Like most routers, you can access the LC11's settings by visiting a URL in a web browser while the device is connected. There you can change the password, see other connected devices, set the hotspot to power down if idle, and adjust the security settings. The control panel is also the only way to see the LC11's battery life. The power button will turn yellow when power is below 20 percent and red when juice dips below 5 percent, but there are no other battery LED indicators on the device itself. (The new Sprint MiFi 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot has a more helpful cell phone-like battery meter.)
Like Verizon's 4G USB modems, the LC11 hands off from 4G to 3G automatically. Since all our tests were conducted in areas with strong 4G signals, we couldn't test the amount of time it took to move from one network to another. However, we did notice that there's no way to manually switch networks, which would be a good way to save battery life.
Since we've proven in previous tests that Verizon's LTE network is the fastest 4G service, we decided to see how the LC11's speeds compared to the LG VL600, a USB modem, and the HTC Thunderbolt, an Android smart phone that can share its 4G signal both as a mobile hotspot and via a USB connection. For each test, we used the HP Pavilion dm3t.
Using Speedtest.net in our Brooklyn apartment, the LC11 averaged a speedy download rate of 19.4 megabits per second. While that exceeds Verizon's estimated rate of 12 Mbps, the LC11 was not the fastest. The VL600 led the pack with an average download rate of 28.4 Mbps. The Thunderbolt's tethered Internet connection clocked in at 19.66Mbps, but its hotspot feature pulled down a lower average of 16 Mbps.
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Upload speeds were more competitive: While the LC11's rate of 5.2 Mbps was slightly above Verizon's predictions (5 Mbps), it still fell behind the tethered Thunderbolt, which provided the fastest uploads of 5.5 Mbps. The VL600 notched 5.2 Mbps, and using the Thunderbolt's hotspot feature, we saw an average upload of 3.2 Mbps.
File Download and Web Page Load Tests
We also compared the LC11 to the Thunderbolt and its mobile hotspot connection by downloading a 151MB version of Open Office and transferring a 6.5 MB file to an FTP server. The LC11 finished the Open Office download in 3 minutes and 49 seconds, a rate of 5.4 Mbps. It took the Thunderbolt--used as a hotspot--4:32 (4.4 Mbps), to download the same file.
When it came to FTP uploads and downloads, the LC11 downloaded the 6.5MB file in 8 seconds and uploaded it in 9 seconds. Using the Thunderbolt as a hotspot, we completed the same task in 10 and 21 seconds, respectively.
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While the LC11 outperformed the Thunderbolt in uploads and downloads, the two devices were about even when it came to web surfing. Using the HP dm3t, the LC11 loaded The New York Times, CNN, and ESPN web pages each in an average of 5 seconds. The HTC Thunderbolt in hotspot mode surfed the web at a comparable rate: it loaded the New York Times in an average of 6 seconds, while CNN and ESPN each finished in an average of 4 seconds.
Performance with Multiple Connections
The LC11 can be connected to as many as five devices simultaneously, and does so well. At a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan, we connected two smart phones and a notebook to the hotspot device: the HTC Thunderbolt, the Samsung Indulge, and a Lenovo ThinkPad X220. While NPR streamed on the Thunderbolt and music played over Amazon Cloud Drive on the Indulge, the X220 showed a download speed of 12.8 Mbps on Speedtest.net. When we started streaming Netflix video on the notebook, the download speed dropped down to 5.45 Mbps but all services continued to work. In the midst of all that activity, the Samsung Indulge also installed a new application in just 3 seconds.
When connected wirelessly to an HP Pavilion dm3t, the LC11 lasted 3 hours and 27 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). The Thunderbolt, connected to the same notebook as a mobile hotspot, lasted 21 minutes longer, or 3 hours and 48 minutes. That's not a large delta. The LC11's endurance could get commuters through the day, but it won't satisfy all-day workers who need lasting power.
Coverage and Value
Verizon's LTE network is available in 40 cities and 64 airports right now with 105 more markets planned for the end of the year.
The LC11 hotspot costs $99 with a $50 online discount and a two-year contract. Verizon offers two 4G mobile broadband plans: a monthly allowance of 5GB for $50 a month or a 10GB option at 7a $80 a month. Both plans include overage fees of $10 per extra GB. Those plans can run you $1,920 or $1,200 over the course of a contract, excluding overage costs.
The $99 Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot SCH-LC11 is a solid choice if you want to be able to connect multiple gadgets, whether it's a notebook, iPad, or other Wi-Fi gadget. Individual laptop users would be better served with the faster speeds of a dedicated 4G LTE USB modem like the LG VL600, but the LC11 consistently outperformed the HTC Thunderbolt phone in hotspot mode. Business users and workers traveling in groups will especially like this device, but you'll need to keep that charger handy.