Face off: Novatel 4G LTE MiFi vs. Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot

Summary:Verizon now offers two mobile hotspots for use with the 4G network, one from Samsung and the other from Novatel, and I've been testing them to see which is the best. Check out the face off to see which one gets the nod.

The Verizon 4G LTE network is the fastest mobile network in the U. S., and a mobile hotspot is just the ticket to connect up to 5 devices to the network for high-speed connectivity. Verizon now offers two mobile hotspots for use with the 4G network, and I've been testing them to see which is the best. Both the Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot and the Novatel 4G LTE MiFi work with data plans on Verizon starting at $50 per month.

Mobile hotspots are gadgets a little bigger than credit cards that combine a mobile broadband modem with a WiFi router to get multiple devices onto the network at a time. They are simple to operate: hit the power button and that's it. The hotspot device connects to the fastest network it can find, starting with the Verizon 4G network, and if that's not available it steps down automatically to the 3G EVDO network. In just a few seconds the hotspot is connected, and the integrated router becomes available for any device with WiFi to connect and get online.

My testing shows that both devices are very similar in form and function, and work well with the Verizon 4G network. I have good 4G coverage in Houston, so I did not test the 3G function of either modem. I have broken down the performance of the devices in several categories to compare the two.

There is not much difference in size between the two devices, with the Samsung just a tiny bit smaller than the Novatel. Any difference in weight is also negligible between the two. I rate them both equal in size.

Check out Verizon 4G mobile hotspot photo gallery


Image Gallery: Verizon 4G mobile hotspot face off:Novatel MiFi vs. Samsung Mobile Hotspot.
Image Gallery: PlayBook
Image Gallery: PlayBook

Connection speed

In a mobile setting one of the most important features of a hotspot is how fast it gets online once powered on. I have used hotspots in the past that took a very long time to find the broadband network and get online, a real impediment to mobile usage. Neither of these modems take long to get online, with each getting online within 15 seconds or so after pushing the power button. The Samsung is a little bit faster in this regard, but only by a second or two. Either of these devices will get you online quickly while on the go. I rate them both equal for connection speed.

Online speed

Another critical function of a hotspot is how well it dishes out the fast network data to connected devices. I've used hotspot devices that seem to throttle the network speed, and I wanted to make sure neither of these do so. I am happy to report that both modems connect devices at full speed, and I found no differences in this regard.

I ran several simple speed tests in different locations, and in every instance the speeds delivered to my devices was very similar. The only variation I noted was in the LTE network itself, which is common. I was able to record speeds up to 20 Mbps down with both the Samsung and the Novatel, and up to 6 Mbps up. There was no notable speed difference at all between these two devices. I rate them both equal in online speed.

I've heard from several people that both of these devices work well with corporate VPNs, but I haven't tested that myself. Either one should be good for that purpose.

Battery life

These devices are designed to be run using an integrated battery, so battery life is important. The Novatel MiFi lasted about 15 minutes longer than the Samsung on a single charge. I don't find this significant personally, as either device can be plugged into a laptop via USB for both charging and operation. This would keep you going in a pinch, as long as you had a device with a USB port.

The battery life may be more important for some mobile users, and even though the Novatel lasted a bit longer I would give the nod to the Samsung in the battery life category. It's expensive (about $50), but Verizon offers an extended battery for the Samsung that almost doubles the battery life. This option should provide a good 7 hours of usage on the Samsung, versus just under 4 hours on the standard battery.

Conclusion

My testing leads me to conclude that either one of these gadgets is good at the intended function, getting WiFi-equipped devices onto the Verizon 4G/3G network. I found no appreciable difference in operation between the two, and would have no problem recommending either to readers. I would give a slight nod in favor of the Novatel MiFi, simply due to its history of making MiFi devices for other networks. Novatel invented the MiFi, while the Samsung Mobile Hotspot is its first device of this type.

Both devices are $99 from Verizon with a 2-year 4G data contract, and require the same data plan from the carrier.

Topics: Samsung, Mobility, Wi-Fi

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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