Freedom Sleeve Rocket (FreedomPop) review

The Freedom Sleeve Rocket from FreedomPop can get your fourth-generation iPod touch online for free, but a hotspot costs less up front and is more versatile.

If you own an iPod touch, then you know it’s just about as useful as your nearest Wi-Fi connection. And chances are you lose that connection whenever you leave the house. FreedomPop is looking to change that with the Freedom Sleeve Rocket, which is a case for your fourth-generation iPod touch that gets it online for free. Yes, you read that correctly. A basic plan from FreedomPop comes with 500MB of free data per month, along with a number of simple opportunities to earn more. As long as you fall within the limited coverage area, the $99 Freedom Sleeve Rocket is a great option for free Wi-Fi, but a hotspot like the Freedom Spot Overdrive Pro costs less up front and is even more versatile.

Pricing, Plans, and Coverage
FreedomPop offers three different plans for the Freedom Sleeve Rocket: Basic, Casual, and Premiere. The Basic plan is free, and gets you 500MB of data every month. After that, extra data costs $0.02 per 1MB (which works out to $20 per 1GB).

Paid plans are inexpensive. The Casual plan costs $17.99 per month and gets you 2GB of data. After that, additional data costs $0.01 per 1MB (or $10 per 1GB). The Premiere plan, meanwhile, costs $28.99 for 4GB of data, with the same $0.01 charge for each additional megabyte you go over. So while these plans may not be free, they’re a lot cheaper than what you’ll pay for similar amounts of data on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. On the other hand, those carriers also offer access to networks with much faster speeds.

But you’re probably here for the free data. And 500MB per month is good for checking your email on the go and some light Web browsing, but it probably isn’t going to get you much further than that. Luckily, FreedomPop has a number of ways for you to earn more. For starters, you get an additional 50MB of data for every friend you refer, up to 1GB. You can also share or request data from friends. Then there are a number of actions and offers you can complete to earn more data. Actions include downloading the FreedomPop smartphone app or installing the FreedomPop toolbar on your computer, each of which earns you an additional 200MB of data. Offers range from surveys to downloading and installing various programs, which can get you anywhere from an additional 3MB to 3GB of data.

That’s still probably not enough data if you want to do things like stream music and video. But no finite data plan is ideal if you plan to do a lot of streaming. If that’s the case, you’re better off with an unlimited plan from Clear or Virgin Mobile. Both carriers will get you unlimited 4G WiMAX data on the same network as FreedomPop for as little as $34.99 per month.

Keep in mind that FreedomPop currently uses Clearwire’s 4G WiMAX network, which is somewhat limited. Be sure to check out Clear’s 4G coverage map to see if service is available where you live and where you plan to travel. FreedomPop plans to include support for Sprint’s slowly expanding 4G LTE network in the future, but the Freedom Sleeve will not support it; you’ll still be able to get WiMAX, but if you want LTE, you’ll have to get a new device.

Design and Setup
The Freedom Sleeve Rocket is a case designed to fit the fourth-generation iPod touch. It’ll also fit the third-generation touch, but you’re out of luck if you’ve got a shiny new fifth-gen model. It’s a snap-on case, made of black rubberized plastic with a FreedomPop logo on the back, and gray on the sides. At 4.4 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and 2.4 ounces, it adds a considerable amount of bulk to the svelte iPod touch.

There’s a cutout for the camera sensor on the back, and buttons that bump out so you can control the volume and power easily. A power port is on the bottom, but it doesn’t obscure the power port on your iPod touch; you can charge both devices with their respective chargers at the same time. The only control on the case itself is a Power button on the upper right corner. Two status lights above it tell you when the case is turned on, and when it is connected to 4G.

And although the Freedom Sleeve comes in the form of a case, it’s really more of a hotspot masquerading as one. That means that when you turn it on you just connect your iPod touch to it as you would with any other Wi-Fi network. And in addition to your iPod touch, you can connect up to 7 additional devices to the Sleeve.

Performance
I tested the Freedom Sleeve with a fourth-generation iPod touch. The case fit fine, and I had no trouble connecting to 4G in New York City. It takes about a minute for the Rocket to power on and report a signal. Once it was up and running it only took me a few seconds to connect.

Data speeds are closer to 3G than they are to 4G. The Sleeve turned in an average of 3Mbps down, but struggled to hit even 0.1Mbps up, which is consistent with what we saw on the FreedomPop Overdrive Pro. And like the Overdrive Pro, I don’t see a huge issue with these speeds. Since you only get a limited amount of data, you don’t want to inadvertently blaze through it. Additionally, these downlink speeds should still be fast enough for pretty much anything you’ll need to do. Just make sure to stay charged. The Freedom Sleeve’s 1,450mAh was good for a decent 4 hours and 37 minutes of streaming.

Conclusions
If you live within the coverage area, and don’t plan to travel much outside of it, the Freedom Sleeve Rocket is a solid option for getting your iPod touch online for free, or for less than what you’ll pay with any of the major carriers. But you’re still probably better off with a hotspot from FreedomPop like the Freedom Spot Photon or the Overdrive Pro. Both of these work just like the Freedom Sleeve, but don’t add any bulk to your device. And the Overdrive Pro supports 3G data on Sprint, though it costs $3.99 per month.

And if you want unlimited data, be sure check out the Clear Spot Voyager and the Overdrive Pro 3G/4G from Virgin Mobile. They perform similarly to the Freedom Sleeve, but come with unlimited data plans for as low as $34.99 per month.


Verdict
The Freedom Sleeve Rocket from FreedomPop can get your fourth-generation iPod touch online for free, but a hotspot costs less up front and is more versatile.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc