The U600 3G/4G USB Stick for Virgin Mobile ($39.99) is an inexpensive way to get online with all the data you could ever need. It’s a USB cellular modem that hooks into Sprint’s slow 3G network, as well as its abandoned 4G WiMAX network, to provide a wireless connection for your computer. Unlike a mobile hotspot, you can only use it to get one device online at a time, but you don’t have to worry about battery life. For as little as $35 per month, you can have access to all the 4G WiMAX data you can handle. If you live in the coverage area and use lots of data, it’s definitely worth considering.
Pricing and Performance
We have a full review of the U600 on Sprint, and the Virgin model looks and acts very similarly. I’ll focus on the pricing and data speeds on Virgin, as well as comparisons with other contract-free USB modems, in this review.
There are two big reasons to consider the U600 on Virgin: Pricing and unlimited data. The modem itself costs $39.99, which is average. But there’s a lot of value to be found in Virgin’s Broadband2Go plans. For $5 per day, you get 200MB of 3G data. For $35 per month, you get 2GB of 3G data, and $55 per month gets you 5GB of 3G data. Those prices are good, but here’s where it gets even better: Each of those plans comes with unlimited 4G WiMAX data. That means you can use the modem as much as you want for as little as $35 per month.
Unlike Clear, which provides unlimited data on the same WiMAX network, there’s no cap on download or upload speeds on Virgin. But there’s still a catch—Virgin claims that speeds may be throttled after 10GB of usage per month. But even then, speeds are capped at 2Mbps, which isn’t bad.
AT&T and Verizon have better 3G, as well as much faster 4G LTE networks, but those plans average around $50 per month for 5GB of data; you can burn through all of that before you finish watching a season of Breaking Bad on Netflix. With unlimited data, you can even use the U600 as your primary home Internet connection, although it will only connect one computer at a time. To connect up to five different devices, you’re better off with the Overdrive Pro 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot.
As we discovered in our Fastest Mobile Networks report, Sprint has the slowest 3G speeds of all the carriers we tested. So if you don’t live in a WiMAX coverage area, you may want to rethink your options. But if you are covered by WiMAX, you can expect speeds that are much better than Sprint’s 3G, though still not great. To find out if you’re covered, check here.
In testing the U600, I saw average download speeds of around 2.7Mbps, which isn’t bad. Uploads, on the other hand, never broke past 0.3Mbps, which is rather slow. But if you can tolerate the slower speeds, it’s a major relief to know that you have unlimited data at your disposal. And unlike the Clear Stick Atlas, which only supports WiMAX, the U600 gets you a finite amount of 3G data per month as well. Even if it’s slow, it’s still good to have if you’re travelling outside of the WiMAX coverage area.
The U600 3G/4G USB Stick is a solid option if you need access to lots of data while on-the-go. The Clear Stick Atlas also gets you unlimited data on the same 4G WiMAX network, though it lacks 3G support, so it won’t work in as many places. On the other hand, the Atlas is plug and play, whereas the U600 requires that you set up and use Virgin’s connection management software, so it’s a tradeoff. The Overdrive Pro from Virgin, meanwhile, is a hotspot that allows you to connect up to 5 devices at once, though you’re reliant on the hotspot’s battery life.
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