Last week was an exciting week for us as we took a trip from Boston to Tampa. Instead of taking a plane down, we decided to do it the old fashion way with four wheels and eventually moved to the Amtrak auto-train. The two in party, including me, wondered what we would do to occupy ourselves over the three day trip. We figured what better way would there be to review a mobile hotspot than a long trip down the east coast. So we decided to get a Clear Spot 4G+ Mobile Hotspot and test it extensively over the period of a trip, with the majority of use during the three day trip.
Now you may be wondering, what is a Clear Spot 4G+ Mobile Hotspot? It is a small device that makes a Wi-Fi hotspot allowing up to five different devices to connect to it at one time. Using a mobile broadband connection, the Clear Spot 4G+ Mobile Hotspot allows users to access the internet anywhere there is 3G or 4G coverage. The default setting is 4G Preferred, meaning it will use 4G if there is coverage and 3G if there is no 4G. The switch between 4G and 3G is pretty seamless making it painless for the user.
A 4G connection allows for mobile internet speeds 4x as fast as 3G speeds. However, 4G coverage is still lacking for most markets. Clear uses WiMAX technology for its 4G network that has average speeds of 3 to 6 Mbps and can go as high a 10 Mbps. Power users will be happy to hear that Clear allows for unlimited data over the 4G network, while it still has a 5GB cap on its 3G network.
The Clear 4G coverage is definitely spotty, but this early into the start of the 4G boom we wouldn’t expect it to be rolled out in rural areas just yet. Clear claims to have 49 markets covered with 4G speeds, but we think that it may be more as we got 4G coverage in Natick, MA when it said there was absolutely no 4G coverage in MA. The company says that it plans to expand 4G coverage into Tampa, Orlando, and Daytona, FL by the end of this summer (which is rapidly coming to an end). By the end of 2010, Clear says it will have New York City, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh covered.
When we first got the device, made by Sierra Wireless, we were super excited to get it up and running. The first day we were able to catch 4G in Natick, MA. When connected to 4G the speeds were so fast that we were able to stream Netflix using Xbox Live in HD. We did not have the same luck with 3G. We experienced an activation error when trying to get the 3G working. We first used the online tech support chat. After one hour of talking to a “L1 Tech”, they told us that they have “very small training” and have higher tech agents that I can speak with if I called tech support via phone. So we called up tech support with using the support number and got the problem solved fast. Otherwise, setting up the device was as simple as turning it on and connecting your devices to it using the Wi-Fi network.
Our plan for the trip was to begin in Boston driving down to Virginia and catching the Amtrak auto-train from Virginia to Tampa, FL. Driving from Boston to Virginia took about 9 hours with traffic, so you could imagine how convenient the Clear Spot 4G+ Mobile Hotspot for whoever was in the passenger seat. During the car ride we used a Wi-Fi only iPad for entertainment and connected it to the Mobile Hotspot. The majority of our ride down we were using the 3G network which loaded web pages decently fast. There were a few instances, like in the Philadelphia and the Baltimore area, where we were able to catch 4G. However, we were greeted with a Sprint web page that asked us to test drive 4G for a charge of $9.99 for a 24 hour pass; we did not purchase a pass.
In Virginia we made the switch to the Amtrak auto-train that would bring us (and our car) to Florida. We knew from previous trips that the path used by the auto-train often has spotty coverage, so we knew that we wouldn’t have coverage the entire way down. We found that we got 3G coverage a lot of the time, but occasionally would pass by areas where there was absolutely no signal. When comparing the 3G coverage on Clear to the 3G coverage on our AT&T iPhone, we found that Clear was connected much more frequently than the iPhone.
The device itself is 3.15″ x 3.15″ so it isn’t too small like some of the broadband cards, but it still can fit in your pocket if you have the right jeans. Weighing in at 4.5 oz, the Clear Spot 4G+ Mobile Hotspot isn’t too heavy to bring around to different places of your choice. The device is black and glossy the whole way around. On the front of the device there is the power button and a screen that will display information like your battery status, network name and password, and signal strength. The top bumped has a volume toggle that allows you to turn sound on or off. The bottom side has the microUSB charging port and a microSD card slot. We did notice that the device seemed to get very hot when there was a device connected to it. We aren’t talking like a little warm, we wouldn’t want this thing sitting on our lap because it gets so hot.
Clear lists the battery life to be about three hours on the Clear Spot 4G+. During our extensive testing, we found that the battery did realistically last about three hours. We found a car charger useful during long trips in the car.
Controlling the Clear Spot 4G+ is simple using the in-browser control panel. When connected to the mobile hotspot, you can get to the control panel by typing “clearspot” into the URL bar. The control panel will allow you to make changes and view information such as changing the network name, password, 3G/4G preferences, battery options, and data transfer stats. We really like the control panel and how simple it is to use.
All in all, we really do love this device. The seemless switching over between 4G and 3G make the Clear Spot 4G+ Mobile Hotspot useful in the majority of the United States. Setting up the device is very simple with the control panel and the screen right on the device. When connected to 4G, we were impressed with the speeds we were getting. Clear is rapidly expanding the 4G coverage so most densely populated areas should have it in the next few years. The device itself costs $224.99 or it can be leased for $5.99 a month (two-year contract only). The monthly service charge on this device will run you $55 a month, which is still less than most of the major carriers in the States.