Verizon Wireless: Samsung SCH-LC11
If all you care about is getting blazing speed, look no further than the Samsung 4G LTE Mobile hotspot SCH-LC11 on Verizon's LTE network. It can connect you to all the Web has to offer at speeds that can make wired broadband systems jealous, but it has the highest upfront cost.
At 0.5 by 3.5 by 2.3 inches, Verizon's hotspot is the smallest of the three; at 2.7 ounces, it weighs more than the AT&T hotspot and less than Sprint's. However, the three devices differ by less than an ounce in weight and less than half an inch in length; it would be hard to tell them apart blindfolded.
The Verizon device comes with an AC adapter as well as a USB cable to charge it from a computer, but it lacks the MicroSDHC card slot that the other two offer for saving and sharing data. It supports Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux computers.
Using the device's default network name and encryption code, I connected from a laptop on the first try. Once online, I was able to change its configuration details, such as its encryption settings; it can handle anything from WEP to WPA2 security. You have access to when the device goes into power-saving sleep mode, and can monitor how much data the device is moving. However, it lacks the instant-online button of the Sprint hotspot.
The device has lights to show battery life, Wi-Fi activity and whether it's connected to Verizon's 4G or 3G service. I like the Sprint hotspot's info screen better, though, because it shows more data and is easier to read. The Verizon unit's battery gauge in particular isn't very helpful -- the light shows solid green for a 20 to 100 percent charge (a very wide range), yellow for 6 to 20 percent and red for less than 5 percent. Alternatively, you can see how much battery power is left or how strong the wireless data connection is by logging on to the device's setup pages.
Verizon's LTE network is currently available in 74 cities, and the company plans to have 4G access available in 175 U.S. cities by the end of the year. The long-term goal is to mirror its 3G network with LTE coverage by 2013. In the meantime, if you're in an area that isn't covered by Verizon's LTE network, the hotspot automatically connects to the company's 3G network; you may experience a short disruption of service if you're connected while moving from a 4G to a 3G location.
The Verizon hotspot swept all three performance categories. It averaged an 11.3Mbps download speed over a week of testing and hit a scorching peak download rate of 19.7Mbps -- six times faster than AT&T's network.
For those who need to move data onto the network, Verizon led the pack with an average upload speed of 3.3Mbps, nearly 10 times that of Sprint's network. Finally, it had a latency of 76.4ms, half that of Sprint's and one quarter that of AT&T's network, meaning that the network reacts faster to requests, making for smoother surfing. The Verizon hotspot was able to consistently play Internet radio and online videos without interruption or stuttering.
Its Wi-Fi signal reached the farthest of the three, with a range of 95 feet, one-third longer than Sprint's hotspot. The downside is battery life: Verizon's hotspot ran for 3 hours and 42 minutes, 24 minutes less than Sprint's.