The device weighs in at 3 ounces, about a third of an ounce heavier than AT&T's hotspot. At 0.6 by 3.5 by 2.4 inches, it is midway between the others in size.
Its black housing has shiny graphite trim. Rather than the cryptic LED lights that the others have, the Sprint hotspot has a monochrome e-ink screen that shows the signal strength, battery life, and whether GPS is on at a glance. There's also a light on the side to show that the Wi-Fi router is transmitting. It comes with an AC adapter, USB cable for charging from a computer, and a soft fabric case.
Like the others, Sprint's hotspot supports Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux computers, and like AT&T's mobile hotspot, it has a MicroSDHC card slot for saving and sharing data; it works with cards up to 32GB.
I was able to connect the GPS-enabled hotspot on my first try using the default network name and encryption code. The setup page opens with a map of where you are and the local weather. Setup offers access to all the hotspot's operational details, such as when it goes to sleep and how many bytes have been sent and received. It can connect with clients using any of the popular encryption standards, from WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) to the more secure WPA2.
The Sprint hotspot can do a setup trick the others can't: Press the WPS button on its side, and the router automatically creates an encrypted data channel with your computer and reconnects the two whenever they are in range. It can be done in 15 seconds.
The hotspot can tap into Sprint's 4G WiMax network, which is currently up and running in 71 cities in 28 states, as well as the company's 3G CDMA2000 EVDO network as a backup. Every few weeks, Sprint adds another group of cities to its WiMax-covered list. If the 4G network doesn't reach to where you are, the hotspot automatically downshifts to the slower 3G network, although you can expect a short disruption of service.
With performance that came in between the scorching speed of Verizon and the tepid speed of AT&T, Sprint's network generally satisfied, with smooth video. Its download speeds averaged 2.33Mbps and hit a peak of 9.2Mbps, but its 157.1ms latency meant wasting time waiting for the network to respond. It had an average upload speed of 230Kbps.
I have a caveat, however: Twice during my work with the Sprint hotspot, the device would not respond and needed to be reset. Neither of the other two hotspots behaved like this.
|At a glance|
Price: $280, or $80 with a two-year Sprint contract ($45 to $90 per month for WiMax service)
Pros: Long battery life; battery and signal-strength gauge on unit; MicroSDHC card slot; easy setup; soft case; 3G and 4G coverage
Cons: Slow upload speed; needed to be reset
Its 1,500 mAh battery pack was able to power the hotspot for 4 hours and 6 minutes, the longest of the three and perfect for those who work or play off the grid. On the other hand, its Wi-Fi transmitter was the weakest, with a range of only 68 feet, one-third less than the Verizon hotspot's class-leading range.
Priced at $80 with a two-year service contract, the hotspot is a little less expensive than the Verizon model but more costly than AT&T's device. Sprint offers three service plans: All include the luxury of unlimited 4G data but charge $45, $60 and $90 respectively for 3GB, 5GB, and 10GB of data on Sprint's 3G network. Each plan charges an extra 5 cents per megabyte when you go over the data limit.
Bottom line: The easiest of the three hotspots to set up and get online, Sprint's MiFi 4082 delivers reasonable bandwidth and long battery life, but it pales in comparison to the speed of Verizon's hotspot.