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If you spend more time away from home than at home, you may be surprised by how useful a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot can be (also known as portable hotspots). It lets you take the Internet with you everywhere you go.

To clarify: A portable hotspot is not the same thing as a public hotspot, which is a router that accepts open connections (check if your router is a public hotspot Is Your Router a Public Hotspot? Here's What It Means Is Your Router a Public Hotspot? Here's What It Means Not many people are aware that their ISP-issued routers are being used as public hotspots that anyone can access. Here's what that means and why you may want to disable that feature. Read More ). Instead, a portable hotspot converts cellular data into Wi-Fi connections.

By transferring cellular data via Wi-Fi, you can connect your laptop or tablet to a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that uses a 4G LTE mobile data network EDGE, 3G, H+, Etc: What Are All These Mobile Networks? EDGE, 3G, H+, Etc: What Are All These Mobile Networks? Are you on the fastest mobile network? If not, where do you fall on the spectrum? These mobile network symbols can be confusing, but don't worry because we'll clear it up for you. Read More to grant your laptop on-the-go Internet access no matter where you are — and a side benefit is that you no longer have to worry about the risks of using public Wi-Fi 3 Dangers Of Logging On To Public Wi-Fi 3 Dangers Of Logging On To Public Wi-Fi You've heard that you shouldn't open PayPal, your bank account and possibly even your email while using public WiFi. But what are the actual risks? Read More .

But not all portable hotspots (or their data plans) are made equal — some require prepayment and others require signing a contract. Here are the best ones you can get right now, both regarding available features and total cost.

1. Verizon Jetpack AC791L (CA)

As of this writing, Verizon is the undisputed king of mobile data networks due to its balance of coverage and speed, and the Verizon Jetpack AC791L is the latest and greatest hotspot model yet.

It retails for $200, but you can grab it for $50 if you agree to a two-year contract with Verizon (along with a $40 activation fee and a $175 early termination fee).

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mobile-hotspot-verizon-ac791l

With a hotspot, you’ll want one of Verizon’s 16 different Data Only plans. Also, note that you’ll have to pay an additional $20 per month to connect this hotspot to whichever plan you select:

  • The cheapest plan is 2 GB for $20/mo.
  • The best value plan is 20 GB for $110/mo.
  • The largest plan is 100 GB for $710/mo.

Notable features of the AC791L:

  • Up to 20 hours of in-use battery life.
  • Supports up to 15 connected devices.
  • Supports temporary passwords for guest devices.
  • Supports the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard.
  • Supports only 4G.
  • Can charge phones and other USB-powered devices.

Verizon Jetpacks use the Verizon network.

2. Verizon Jetpack 6620L (CA)

The Verizon Jetpack 6620L is the hotspot model that came before the AC791L above — and even though it may not be the absolute best anymore, it still packs enough of a punch to be more than worthwhile.

mobile-hotspot-verizon-6620l

The retail price, the activation fee, the early termination fee, and the available data plans are all the same between the 6620L and the AC791L. Both of them are on par regarding network performance too, so you really can’t go wrong between the two.

Notable features of the 6620L:

  • Up to 20 hours of in-use battery life.
  • Supports up to 15 connected devices.
  • Supports both 3G and 4G.
  • Can charge phones and other USB-powered devices.

Verizon Jetpacks use the Verizon network.

3. AT&T Unite Pro (CA)

The AT&T Unite Pro was one of the best options when it debuted in 2015 but has since been overtaken by Verizon’s latest performers — but not so much as to make it obsolete. If you prefer AT&T over Verizon, this beast may be for you.

It retails for $200, but if you agree to a two-year contract with AT&T (along with a $45 activation fee and an early termination fee of $150), it costs $50.

mobile-hotspot-att-unite-pro

If you’re already an AT&T customer, or if you intend to switch over to AT&T, your best bet is to get a Mobile Share plan. The hotspot can be added onto the Mobile Share plan for an additional $20 per month:

  • The cheapest plan is 1 GB for $30/mo.
  • The best value plan is 25 GB for $110/mo.
  • The largest plan is 100 GB for $450/mo.

Regarding per-byte cost, AT&T is much cheaper than Verizon once you get to the 25 GB and above plans. Unfortunately, if you want a data-only plan, you only have the DataPro option:

  • 5 GB for $50/mo plus $10 per additional GB.

Notable features of the Unite Pro:

  • Up to 16 hours of in-use battery life.
  • Supports up to 15 connected devices.
  • Supports both 3G and 4G.
  • Can charge phones and other USB-powered devices.

AT&T Unite Pro uses the AT&T network.

4. AT&T Velocity

The AT&T Velocity is objectively worse than the Unite Pro in nearly every way, but it’s still more than good enough for casual users who only need hotspot access from time to time. And it’s cheap!

It retails for $150, but you can grab it for $1 if you agree to a two-year contract with AT&T (along with a $45 activation fee and an early termination fee of $150).

mobile-hotspot-att-velocity

As far as data plan options go, everything is the same here as with the Unite Pro: move everything over to AT&T and save with a Mobile Share plan or spend an exorbitant amount on a not-so-worth-it DataPro plan.

Notable features of the Velocity:

  • Up to 10 hours of in-use battery life.
  • Supports up to 10 connected devices.
  • Supports both 3G and 4G.
  • Can charge phones and other USB-powered devices.
  • Can share files using a MicroSD card.

AT&T Velocity uses the AT&T network.

5. Karma Go

The Karma Go was super impressive when it first launched, complete with its (at the time) unlimited data plan (our review of Karma Karma Mobile Hotspot Review and Giveaway Karma Mobile Hotspot Review and Giveaway With its lack of expiration dates, bonus data scheme and low data costs, Karma possesses the potential to change the mobile hotspot landscape. Read More ) and seemingly unsustainable business model. After undergoing a few changes, it’s now a bit middle-of-the-road for monthly data plans. Its prepaid rates, on the other hand, remain top tier.

mobile-hotspot-karma-go

It retails for $150 and has no option for a contract, but the company does run specials on occasion, and if you can catch one then you could potentially grab it for $100 or less. There are no activation or early termination fees.

As far as data plans go, you have four options:

  • The 1st tier plan is 5 GB for $40/mo.
  • The 2nd tier plan is 10 GB for $75/mo.
  • The 3rd tier plan is 20 GB for $140/mo.
  • The 4th tier plan is 25 GB for $150/mo.

Or you can opt for the pay-as-you-go option, which involves buying chunks of data ahead of time. Purchased data never expires:

  • 1 GB for $15 with a 100 MB bonus every time a new guest connects to your Karma Go network.

Also, you can pay an extra $5/mo (if subscribed) or $15/mo (if paying-as-you-go) to unlock Premium features like making your network private with a password, personalizing your Wi-Fi SSID, and more.

Karma Go uses the Sprint network.

6. T-Mobile ZTE Falcon Z-917

T-Mobile only has one portable hotspot that’s worth talking about: the ZTE Falcon Z-917, which is only OK when compared to its best competitors. However, if the price of AT&T’s and Verizon’s hotspots put you off, this one might fit you well.

mobile-hotspot-tmobile-zte-falcon

It retails for $80. Concerning data, T-Mobile offers some of the best value around at the expense of good coverage (though it has gotten a lot better lately). The Simple Choice plan is good for data only:

  • The 1st tier is 2 GB for $20/mo.
  • The 2nd tier is 6 GB for $35/mo. Includes Binge-On.
  • The 3rd tier is 10 GB for $50/mo. Includes Binge-On.
  • The 4th tier is 14 GB for $65/mo. Includes Binge-On.
  • The 5th tier is 18 GB for $80/mo. Includes Binge-On.

And starting in September 2016, T-Mobile will consolidate all of its non-Simple Choice plans into a single plan called T-Mobile ONE, which offers unlimited talk, text, and data for up to four lines:

  • $70/mo for the first line.
  • $50/mo for the second line.
  • $20/mo for the third and fourth lines.
  • Users in the top 3% of usage (about 26 GB per month) may be throttled during peak network activity.

Notable features of the ZTE Falcon Z-917:

  • Up to 6 hours of in-use battery life.
  • Supports up to 10 connected devices.
  • Supports only 4G.

T-Mobile uses the T-Mobile network.

7. FreedomPop MiFi 500 LTE (CA)

The Freedom Spot MiFi 500 LTE is only worth mentioning because its pricing model is so unique. It won’t be enough for everyone, but if you need a hotspot only occasionally, then this one rocks.

mobile-hotspot-freedom-spot

It retails for $150. Despite that upfront cost, this hotspot is the best option for those on a tight budget, those who want to be exceedingly frugal, or those who just aren’t sure if they want to invest heavily in a better alternative.

  • 500 MB for $0/mo plus $20 per additional GB.
  • 2 GB for $20/mo plus $15 per additional GB.

This is actually the same exact mobile plan that we covered in our list of the best U.S. smartphone plans The Best US Cellular Data Plans for Your Smartphone The Best US Cellular Data Plans for Your Smartphone Though mobile phones have improved over the years, cellular plans have either stayed the same or gotten worse. Luckily, we've found the best deals for US smartphone users. Read More , except the only difference is that you’re hooking up a hotspot instead of a FreedomPop phone.

Portable Wi-Fi Hotspots: Worth It?

Note that you can create portable hotspots in other ways — you don’t necessarily have to buy a dedicated hotspot device like the ones listed above. Other options include tethering to your smartphone’s data How USB Tethering Can Fix Your Laptop's Bad WiFi Connection How USB Tethering Can Fix Your Laptop's Bad WiFi Connection Your phone can connect to the WiFi but your laptop can't? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Read More or using USB data cards 3 Foolproof Ways to Create Your Own Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot for Tethering in North America 3 Foolproof Ways to Create Your Own Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot for Tethering in North America Do you want to give multiple wireless gadgets on-the-go internet access? Are you sick of getting ripped off by wireless hotspot tethering? There’s a variety of technologies that can help you – the two most... Read More .

That being said, portable hotspots are only situationally useful. If you don’t travel or commute frequently, you may not need one. They’re also expensive per byte, which may still be worth it if your house doesn’t get anything better than dial-up or DSL. Only you can decide if the costs are worth it.

And one more thing: portable hotspots are not the same thing as portable travel routers What Are Travel Routers & How Do You Set One Up? What Are Travel Routers & How Do You Set One Up? When traveling to hotels, you probably waste lots of time connecting devices to the hotel's Wi-Fi. Travel routers can help you get around that and make your life easier. Read More !

Share with us below and tell us why you’re looking for a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. Which ones look the best to you? Are there any other good ones that we missed?

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