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One of the most frustrating things about traveling is the inevitable search for wi-fi hotspots. Of course, if you are lucky enough to be staying in accommodations where wi-fi is available you are lucky indeed. Unless…… you have to pay a tidy per diem for the pleasure. Think about it. Between paying to login at the airport, hotel or wherever you have to access the internet, you can end up paying a pretty penny at the end of the day.
Oftentimes, to avoid the highway robbery of hotels that still charge for this service, I will leave the comfort of my room to hunt down a cafe to secure free wi-fi service. As a travel blogger, it would be nice to set up shop in your hotel to post articles and interact on social media without being bothered to track down service.
In this day of multiple electronics that require wi-fi, such as laptops, kindles, cellphones, tablets and iPads, it just makes sense to have one device to service them all. Enter the age of mobile broadband! I was asked to test drive a new mi-fi unit being offered by NetZero. After I rubbed my eyes thinking that I was being punked, I was quite surprised because I wasn’t aware that they were still in business. In the early days of public utilized internet, NetZero offered dial-up service alongside such companies as AOL, Compuserve, Juno, and Earthlink. As it turns out, they still offer dial up along with DSL service. But, I won’t judge. Obviously some people still use dial-up, otherwise, it wouldn’t exist.
It seems that NetZero is rising from the ashes with this new product/service which could eventually put them into play as a technological force in the broadband industry. I received my device and was a little disappointed to learn that no service existed in my little rural city just northwest of the city of Atlanta. The good news was that Atlanta was listed in their coverage area, so I was excited to give it a go once I reached the city limits. As it stands, there are only 87 U.S. cities within their coverage area. I’m sure that figure will increase in time and that time really can’t come soon enough for me. The unit has a 150-foot range and works best if used close to an exterior window or outside wall.
The NetZero 4G Hotspot arrives partially charged, but you can fully charge it using the included wall charger if you’d like. Once it is charged, you can press the power button (located on the left-hand side) for five seconds to turn it on. The rather generous LCD screen indicates the battery power level at the top right of the display and the signal strength on the top left. As soon as the unit powers on, it immediately begins searching for 4G service. The instructions caution that it could take a few minutes to connect, but it took me literally seconds. Once it’s connected, you can begin to connect your wi-fi enabled devices by viewing your available wi-fi networks on the device.
Select the NetZero 4G Hotspot network and you will be prompted to key in your password. Your password will always be displayed on your LCD in parentheses, right below your network name. I’m not sure how I feel about that because if it is ever stolen, it will make things very easy for the thief. It could have been done to make things easier for the user since it’s a 10 digit alphanumeric password. There does seem to be some concern with security while it is in your custody. According to their site: “Your Internet connection is private and your personal information is protected from hackers and data thieves.”
Currently, there are two ways to use their 4G service, the palm-held unit that I received which can be used with up to 8 devices or a USB unit that can be used with a laptop or netbook. Personally, I can’t imagine why you would only want something for a laptop when you can pay a little more to cover 8 times as many devices. On second thought, some people still use dial up…..so….nevermind. The price is reasonable for either and I just checked their website, both are on sale as of this writing for half off.
There are four different data plans available that starts at $9.95 and tops out at $49.95 per month. There are no contracts and you can change your data plan at any time. Bonus: NetZero offers a free low-range data plan for one year for those who want to give it a try. However, you must purchase the unit in order to use it.
Final verdict: I really like this hotspot. The learning curve was pretty quick, it took very little time to power on and I was able to surf the web on my Kindle Fire with no problem at all. There was no lag time but I’m sure that has something to do with the fact that I was provided the prime Platinum package with my unit. The unit itself is very lightweight and will fit into your palm. I like the fact that you can tuck it into your pocket or bag for security reasons and it will still work just fine. There are no hidden activation or overage charges either. If you travel a lot or even if you don’t and find that you require wi-fi access on a regular basis, this is something that you should seriously consider. I believe that it will revolutionize the way that I blog in the future.
NetZero provided an evaluation copy of the 4G Hotspot device and one year of free Platinum service in exchange for my honest review of their product. The opinions expressed in this review is mine and mine alone. Updated to add that I used my NetZero Hotspot to post this article.