Hey, T-Mobile? Get on the phone with Novatel and Netgear, stat. The Samsung LTE Mobile Hotspot Pro ($168) is better than T-Mobile’s last hotspot, the Sonic 2.0 LTE. But while it offers fast speeds and long battery life, making it a decent Editors’ Choice for mobile hotspots on T-Mobile, it’s harder to use and configure than the leaders in the field on other carriers. Even so, if you’re on T-Mobile and need a cellular modem, this is the one to get.
The Samsung Pro (also known as the SM-V100T) is bigger, but flatter than most other hotspots on the market. At 3.53 by 3.53 by .52 inches (HWD)—yes, it’s a square—and 5.15 ounces, it’s too big for most pockets. Much of the area is taken up by a bright, sizable LCD screen with a fatal flaw—absolutely no way to control it. I mean, come on, really.
The hotspot has power and WPS setup buttons on the top. Tucked into the lower right hand corner, oddly enough, is a full USB-to-micro-USB cable, which you can use to connect the hotspot to your PC as a modem or storage device. Remove the USB cable and you’ll see a little slot for a microSD card.
The LCD screen shows how many devices are connected, whether you have any text messages and, supposedly, how much data you’ve used. In practice, though, it’s not very useful. The data counter read zero during my entire test period, even though the hotspot’s Web interface showed my 800MB of test data usage. And while the hotspot’s signal strength and battery indicators were fine, other LCD-bearing hotspots offer more on-device flexibility—in the most extreme case of the Netgear Zing and AT&T Unite, letting you change the network SSID and password right on the front of the device.
Configuration and Setup
In this case, the hotspot’s settings are controlled through its Web-based interface, which you can access from any browser. Unfortunately, the Web interface is very slow—it takes several seconds for each page to render, very weird considering there’s no Internet connection involved.
In the Web interface, you’ll find the usual network and security settings. They’re oddly restricted: You can use WPA2 security but no other form, and the 2.4 or 5GHz bands but not both. Port blocking, MAC filtering, and port forwarding are also available. You can also check and send text messages.
The hotspot has several odd features that seem only partially thought through. For instance, using the built-in USB cable, you can use the hotspot as a power pack to recharge other mobile devices. That’s cool, but it drains the battery life you’ll need to stay on the Internet.
The hotspot also appears to be running Android; hook up to it via MTP, and you’ll see 2.6GB of internal storage free and the stock Android range of folders. But there’s no way to take advantage of that power or storage other than with a lackluster DLNA server—not even a general file server.
The hotspot was easy to connect to via Wi-Fi. Hooking it up as a USB modem, on the other hand, was a real trial. You have to hook the hotspot up via a USB cable, install drivers, disconnect and reconnect the hotspot, and then go into the Web interface and switch it from MTP to USB modem mode. Once you do this, it works fine as an RNDIS modem with even faster speeds than its Wi-Fi mode, but it’ll take a while.
Network and Performance
T-Mobile’s network is glorious, if you can get it. The company’s LTE network now covers more than 200 million people in 233 metro areas, and in my experience, it’s often faster and less congested than either AT&T or Verizon in New York City. (We’ll put that assertion to the test in our Fastest Mobile Networks testing in May 2014.) Two hundred million is only 2/3 of the U.S. population, though, and T-Mobile focuses mainly on larger cities, so you should make sure the carrier has coverage where you live and work.
I frequently got speeds of 15-20Mbps in Manhattan, which is very good for a loaded LTE network. Unfortunately, as T-Mobile moves to an even faster “20+20″ network next year, this hotspot doesn’t support that network’s maximum speeds. (In technical terms, it’s Category 3 rather than Category 4.) It’ll still be fast, but a faster device is possible on the new network.
This hotspot will keep you online for a long time. The Samsung Pro didn’t show any of the stability or connection drop issues I saw with the Sonic 2.0 LTE hotspot, and it streamed audio continuously for 10 hours, 54 minutes over LTE—an excellent result. It was rock solid at fulfilling basic connectivity needs.
Remember, you can’t use this or any mobile hotspot as a primary Internet connection, because of data caps. T-Mobile’s prices are very competitive with other 4G hotspot solutions: 2.5GB for $30/month plus $10 for each 2GB beyond that, with international roaming included. Since this is T-Mobile, there are no contracts, and if you go over your data allotment, you just get throttled down to 128kbps rather than overcharged.
But the average American uses 21GB of in-home Internet per month, according to AT&T, and that would cost $120/month—much more than cable or DSL providers charge. T-Mobile offers great value in the wireless world, but no wireless carrier can compete with landline Internet rates.
The hotspot showed relatively little drop-off in speeds at up to 100 feet away from the hotspot, in the line of sight.
We don’t give a lot of 3.5-star products Editors’ Choice awards, but I’m going to have to make an exception here. T-Mobile’s LTE network is excellent where it’s available, and this is the best hotspot for it. But much better hotspots are available on other carriers—hotspots with better configurability, more compact form factors, and more flexible on-device interfaces. That won’t help T-Mobile subscribers, so we recommend this hotspot as our Editors’ Choice on T-Mobile for now.
|Cellular Technology||GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, LTE, HSPA+ 42|
|Number of Devices Supported||10|
|Battery Life||10 hours 54 minutes|
|Bands||850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700, 700|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc