AT&T was onto something with the MiFi Liberate, its first hotspot to feature a touch screen. Now comes the Unite, the carrier’s second hotspot to feature a finger-friendly display. It doesn’t quite match the Liberate on performance, but it’s hard to argue with the price—just 99 cents with a two-year contract. That lone buck (plus usage fees) gets you fast 4G LTE data speeds for up to 10 devices. Its Wi-Fi range is limited, and it can’t match the Liberate’s extra features, but this hotspot is a solid deal if you’re looking to connect on the go.
Design and Management
Sierra Wireless makes the Unite for AT&T and the Netgear Zing Mobile Hotspot for Sprint, both of which are physically identical. It’s the same attractive, 4.3-by-2.7-by-0.6 inch (HWD), 3.95 ounce white plastic brick with useful external antenna ports. The 2.4-inch, 320-by-240-pixel resistive color LCD is also identical. There’s a bit of a delay with touch input, but you’ll find that same lag in the MiFi Liberate and it’s not a deal breaker.
The display shows a wide array of useful information, in a readily accessible and easily readable layout. Along the top, you’ll see the signal strength, connection type, and battery life. Below that you’ll see the Wi-Fi network name and password, along with a status bar that shows how much of your allotted data has been used and how many days remain in your service plan. That last part is important if you choose AT&T’s pre-paid Data Connect Passes (more on that later).
You get three main options on the home screen: Wi-Fi, Messages, and Settings. Under Wi-Fi, you’ll be able to change the SSID and password, manage connected devices, and set up a guest network where devices can’t see your main network. Messages shows you incoming SMS messages. Settings lets you adjust screen brightness and timeout times, check the mobile broadband connection, and perform software updates. Connected devices can access more management features in the Web settings page, which gives you more control over network settings like port forwarding and MAC address filtering.
Plans, Performance, and Conclusions
The Unite costs just 99 cents with a two-year contract, and AT&T currently only offers one monthly plan for data devices like hotspots. $50 per month gets you AT&T’s DataConnect plan, which includes 5GB of data, after that you’ll pay $10 for every 1GB. Current AT&T customers can utilize the company’s Mobile Share plans, which start at $20 per month for 300MB shared across all your mobile devices and an additional $20 per month for each connected device. Mobile Share plans range from the aforementioned 300MB plan all the way up to a 50GB plan for $500. All Mobile Share plans already include unlimited talk and text messages for your mobile phones, and you can get a middle-of-the-pack 6GB plan for $90 per month, plus the $20 per month for every connected device.
You also have the option to purchase the Unite off-contract for $149.99 and access AT&T’s prepaid DataConnect plans. AT&T offers three options: 100MB for $15, 300MB for $30, and 1GB for $50. These plans are only active for 30 days or until your data is depleted.
In my tests, the Unite booted up in about 45 seconds and immediately connected to the fastest AT&T network available. LTE is readily available in New York City, but if there’s no LTE the Unite will fall back on HSPA+ 21.
The Unite supports 802.11b/g/n devices and I was able to easily connect a laptop running Windows 8 and a few different smartphones—you can connect up to 10 devices at a time. I tested all over New York City and saw average speeds of 6Mbps down and 3Mbps up. That’s a bit slow compared with our Fastest Mobile Networks results, but on par with the MiFi Liberate and consistent with other AT&T devices I tested at the same time.
In our battery test, which streams Internet radio over the 4G LTE connection, the Unite lasted 9 hours, 21 minutes. That’s a bit shy of the Liberate’s 10 hours, 21 minutes on the same test, but still a completely respectable result. Wi-Fi range was a bit more finicky. The Unite is rated for up to 100 feet, but speeds start to slow considerably around 25 feet and drop out completely at 50 feet. In Settings, there’s a Boost Range option, but I didn’t notice any significant gains with it enabled.
The AT&T Unite may not be the best mobile hotspot the carrier offers—that’d still be the $49.99 MiFi Liberate—but it is a good deal more affordable. If you can live with the shorter range and reduced battery life, the Unite nets you the same fast LTE speeds you’ll find on the more expensive Liberate. The MiFi Liberate retains our Editors’ Choice for its range, battery, and added features like a built-in microSD card for media sharing.
|Cellular Technology||GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, LTE, HSPA+ 21, GSM|
|Number of Devices Supported||10|
|Battery Life||9 hours, 21 minutes|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc