I was able to connect to AT&T's network on the first try using the system's default network name and encryption code. It's pretty easy but doesn't have the Sprint hotspot's instant configuration button that makes setup a snap. The AT&T hotspot supports Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux computers.
There's a GPS receiver built in, and when you log on to the setup pages, you're greeted with your location and the current weather conditions. Once you're in setup, it's easy to change the device's name, power conservation setting and other operating details. Encryption settings can be adjusted to the usual protocols used by Wi-Fi routers; I recommend WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) as the most secure.
The AT&T hotspot works with the company's HSPA and upgraded HSPA+ networks. Although the company calls its HSPA+ service 4G, it's really more like 3.5G, since it's an enhancement to an 3G existing network rather than a new network built from the ground up using a 4G technology such as LTE or WiMax. AT&T has upgraded nearly its entire 3G network to HSPA+ at this point.
The company is also busy building a 4G network based on LTE technology, with planned rollouts to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio this summer and to 10 more cites by the end of the year. Note that the MiFi 2372 hotspot will not work on AT&T's planned LTE network.
In my tests, the AT&T hotspot's average download speed was 1.65Mbps, which should be plenty for most uses but was only one-sixth as fast as Verizon's LTE network. At two locations, it was faster than 4.5Mbps, but at others, AT&T's network bogged down to barely 100Kbps. In some locations, video took a long time to buffer and faltered during playback; at others, it worked fine.
The hotspot was able to upload data at 630Kbps, well behind the Verizon hotspot but ahead of Sprint's WiMax system. On the downside, it had the longest latency, taking an average of 334.6ms (more than a third of a second) for a ping command to reach AT&T's servers and return to the hotspot. If you get this hotspot, plan on spending a lot of time waiting for Web pages to respond.
|At a glance|
AT&T MiFi 2372
Price: $300, or $50 with two-year AT&T contract ($50 per month for HSPA+ service) after $100 online discount
Pros: Lightweight; MicroSDHC card slot; inexpensive with two-year contract
Cons: Slow speeds; high latency; no battery gauge
Its 1,500 milliamp-hour (mAh) battery was able to power the hotspot for 3 hours and 48 minutes, slightly longer than the Verizon hotspot but 24 minutes less than Sprint's hotspot. At 90 feet, its Wi-Fi range was between the other two.
For $50 a month, AT&T delivers up to 5GB a month for HSPA+ data service in the United States. If you go over the data limit, you're charged $10 per gigabyte.
Bottom line: I love the $50 price tag for the AT&T MiFi 4082, but it might end up being a case of "penny wise and pound foolish" because of the network's slow data speeds.
Sprint: Novatel MiFi 3G/4G
It may not be the fastest, cheapest, or lightest mobile hotspot around, but if your work or play takes you far from an AC outlet, Sprint's MiFi 3G/4G Mobile hotspot -- aka the Novatel Wireless MiFi 4082 -- can keep you online longer.