4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

Summary: High-speed 4G networks tax device batteries to the limit. Using a phone as a mobile hotspot may not be as feasible as getting a 4G MiFi for heavy users.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Wi-Fi
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The MiFi ushered in an era of mobile hotspots that has taken the mobile world by storm. The ability to tap into a 3G data network and dish it out to other devices over WiFi was instantly popular with mobile professionals. It didn't take long for this mobile hotspot ability to appear in smartphones, eliminating the need to carry an extra MiFi gadget along. Then 4G networks started to roll out and it became apparent that tapping into these high-speed networks taxed device batteries to the limits. Folks who depend on the smartphone for voice calls find that this brings us full circle to a debate of dedicated MiFi versus using the phone as a mobile hotspot.

I jumped on the 3G MiFi when it first appeared on the market and never looked back. The ability to carry a tiny gadget in my gear bag that let me get onto the mobile network with a single button press was valuable to my mobile lifestyle. When the first 4G network rolled out in my area I quickly traded in that original MiFi for one that worked on the newer network. Same easy operation, much faster connection.

The appearance of the HTC EVO 4G, the first smartphone with integrated 4G connectivity, challenged the MiFi products directly. This phone had the ability to be used as a mobile hotspot for a fee that eliminated the need for a separate MiFi device. When I first got my EVO I enrolled in the mobile hotspot plan even though I had a MiFi device with a plan so I could test them side-by-side.

It didn't take me long to realize that the benefits of having just the single device (phone as mobile hotspot) were overshadowed by the cost of doing so. The 4G networks hit phone batteries hard due to the high connection speeds, and at times it seemed I was literally watching my phone battery meter visibly drop. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't afford to have a dead phone at the end of the day due to a dead battery, caused by using it as a mobile hotspot. I dropped the phone hotspot plan and kept using the MiFi device (Sprint Overdrive).

I have seen the same thing with the Verizon 4G network, and even though I have the HTC Thunderbolt on loan from Verizon I have ordered a Samsung device to use as a mobile hotspot. Testing of the Thunderbolt used as a hotspot shows that doing so can drain the battery in just a few hours. The Verizon LTE network is even harder on the device battery than the Sprint 4G network as it is much, much higher bandwidth. I can see draining a full Thunderbolt battery in less than 3-4 hours, leaving me without a phone.

Some folks will no doubt prefer to go with the one device option (phone as hotspot) and take along a second battery to get through the day. That's a viable option but in my experience I feel better going with the separate 4G Mobile Hotspot and leaving my phone to do phone stuff. How about you? Which option is right for you? Leave a comment in the TalkBack.

Topics: Mobility, Wi-Fi

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25 comments
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  • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

    Nice article. Give me the MiFi. I would rather carry around a second device then another battery for my phone (not that I can change my damn battery anyway lol). Most the time I would rather be on a WiFi on my phone anyway, so having the Mifi just works for me.
    Bates_
    • Message has been deleted.

      FockApple
      • Message has been deleted.

        athynz
      • Then get a battery booster

        @FockApple

        I love ignorant people. They provide good comedic relief.
        Bruizer
  • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

    I take MiFi any day. I also have EVO 4G and i tried it as mobile hotspot and prior to that I used my HTC Tilt with WMWiFIrouter as hotspot. Tilt battery was good and lasted for few more hours than EVO 4G because it was only on 3G. Where as EVO 4g I couldn't get enough in a day operation and I had to constantly plug it to my laptop to get the charging going. I also dropped using evo as hotspot and got dedicated MiFi. I can easily slip it in my laptop bag and no one notices it existence but it powers up my phones, iPad and other gadgets while I am on road.
    Ram U
  • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

    Well, I simple take with me a USB power cord for the smartphone: lighter and cheaper than carrying a MiFi! There almost always is a USB plug available, beginning with those on my laptop.
    amarcho
    • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

      @amarcho@... Finally the voice of common sense! What's an extra charging cable for a smartphone in a backpack or laptop case? Especially when one factors in the cost of the MiFi and a separate data plan...
      athynz
      • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

        @athynz
        Well if you have to power up only your laptop then simple USB cable to tether your laptop makes sense. Of course then you can make your laptop as hotspot using software solutions to provide wifi muscle to some more gadgets you may have to like me. In that scenario I think MiFi makes sense otherwise usb cable should be enough for majority of people.
        Ram U
    • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

      @amarcho: So you carry around a usb cable and laptop? How is that lighter than Mifi? A usb cable is useless without something to plug it into.
      bradavon
      • You should probubly think your response through again.

        @bradavon: USB cable allows charging the MiFi device or phone from the laptop, thus a smaller power cable is needed. The Mifi device still needs power, the battery will need to be charged. A Laptop and mini-USB cable are light when carrying either a Mifi device or a phone with built in WAP (Samsung Galaxy S, for example). You only need one wall jack to charge both.
        B.O.F.H.
      • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

        @bradavon
        I just plug my EVO into a power source, whether at the library, coffee shop, university or my car. I don't know what the big deal is. Who wants to pay an extra $60 a month and carry a separate device with another power cord when one device is much more efficient and the same speed as the MiFi. If I absolutely need to use my EVO as a hotspot without access to power, which rarely happens, then I have an extra battery or two. I save $40 per month and carry less gear. People just don't make sense.
        tgeek32
      • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

        @bradavon
        Why would you ever want a MiFi if you don't have a laptop with you?? By definition you are carrying a laptop if you see a need to log-on from an unconnected place with a screen larger than your cell phone. And if you are carrying your laptop, having a USB cable makes sense regardless.
        jmwhitcomb
    • How is a laptop lighter than a MiFi?

      @amarcho@...

      Sound whacky to me.
      Bruizer
    • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

      @amarcho@...
      Abso-f'ing -lutely! Been doing this for ages. The cable is already in my bag, as I have it handy for moving media files back and forth. It charges the phone while I use it as a mobile hotspot. Impact on the laptop battery is negligible.

      Makes perfect sense. MiFi is a waste of space, money, and doesn't have 802.11n like my phone does, so it's inferior.
      BigTipper
      • Because you need 802.11n to connect to a broadband network at what speed?

        @BigTipper
        ducat1ss
  • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

    How long does a Mifi last battery last?

    I only use Wifi hotspot on my HTC Desire (no 4G in The UK, so 3G/HSDPA+) occassionally and so far it's been in doors, so battery life hasn't been a problem.

    But if I used it a lot, I'd do the same. Buy a Mifi. I'd have to weigh up whether I wanted two contracts, mobile hotspot has the advantage of being part of your phone contract.

    My phone battery running out mid-day is really annoying and I don't want to have to mess around changing the battery. Besides aren't Mifi devices small? If you're going to carry a second battery, you may as well carry a Mifi instead.
    bradavon
  • My Nokia E72

    I very, very rarely have had a need to hook up more than one device simultaneously to 3G. My Nokia E72 can do it all - via USB or Bluetooth for one device, and as a WiFi hotspot (using JoikuSpot Premium) for many more. Combined with an unlimited (truly unlimited) data package, I'm happy...

    As for speeds, they usually turn out something like this on speedtest.net (which I run quite often just for fun):

    * USB = 3 to 7 Mbit/s download, 1.5 - 2 Mbit/s upload, 25 ms ping
    * Bluetooth = 0.6 Mbit/s download, 0.4 Mbit/s upload, 80 ms ping
    * WiFi = 2 to 4 Mbit/s download, 1.5 Mbit/s upload, 25 ms ping

    I tend to use USB for extended periods (more than 1 hour), since it charges the phone also; Bluetooth for shorter periods (up to an hour); and WiFi only occasionally (for example, when visting family who don't have WiFi and we want to check something on a laptop - easier to just leave the phone in a corner, connect it to power and on we are...

    The only place where I would use a 'MiFi' kind device - in fact I have one at the office - is in a fixed location where, for whatever reason, I would prefer 3G over ADSL.
    Daniel Breslauer
  • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

    Just switched from Sprint Overdrive to the new Overdrive Pro. Physically smaller but with a larger screen and quicker boot up time. While I carry the EVO as a phone and tried the hotspot option, I didn't like having all my eggs in one basket.
    mdics911
  • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

    I haven't yet had a smartphone with a wifi hotspot function, but I'm planning that for my next phone. I currently have a smartphone and a Mifi device and would like to consolidate to one. As for the battery life, I've long made a habit of buying a spare battery, since the days of the flip phones and Startacs, and that habit has served me well. I also keep chargers handy - I have a cradle at the home and office, and I keep a wall charger in my laptop bag as well as a car charger in my vehicle. I can't remember the last time I was stranded without juice for my phone. So, by consolidating to the smartphone with wifi hotspot enabled, I get to eliminate a device and the plan pricing for the wifi hotspot on a phone is less than a separate device, so I save money not only in purchasing the single device but on the plan itself. That's what I think will work best for me going forward. Of course, what works for one person may not work for everyone.
    nashjar
  • RE: 4G MiFi vs. Phone as hotspot: Convenience or battery?

    Honestly, I'd skip the MiFi altogether and get a GSM enabled netbook. This is the very think the netbook was designed for. Why it's getting a bad rep is because people insist on pushing it past its intended purpose (an idea that Google understands well with ChromeOS)

    Still, I can't deny the MiFi is a tasty choice for a 'Net device, having used one from both AT&T and Verizon, they both perform admirably, and as you say, don't suck up bettery life on the phone.
    NCWeber