Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MHS291L review

The Jetpack 4G LTE MHS291L is the longest-lasting hotspot we've ever tested, and your best bet to get online while on-the-go with Verizon Wireless.

Verizon Wireless has a lot more hotspots than USB modems, which makes sense, since hotspots perform comparably and allow you to get multiple devices online at one time. But we haven’t seen a great new hotspot on Verizon in well over a year. Luckily, the $49.99 Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MHS291L breaks the spell. It’s got an interactive status indicator that puts a lot of useful information at the tip of your fingers, along with real-time data usage reporting, so you can stay within the limits of your plan. It also has the longest battery life we’ve ever seen on a hotspot. That makes it our latest Editors’ Choice for hotspots on Verizon.

Design
Made by Pantech, the MHS291L is a bulky device. It measures 3.62 by 2.0 by 0.72 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.97 ounces. It may be hefty, but it also a lot more sturdy than the MiFi 5510L, which felt like a restaurant pager. Besides, a lot of that bulk is to make room for the 4,040mAh battery, which lasted for a positively stunning 14 hours and 37 minutes of LTE streaming. So even if you aren’t around a power socket all day, you’re pretty much guaranteed this thing is going to last.

Design-wise, the MHS291L looks a lot like the MiFi 5510L. It’s a smooth, rectangular block of mostly black plastic, with a red ring around the face that illuminates when you turn it on. There are two external antenna ports—one on the bottom, opposite the charging port, and one on the top, across from the Power button. There’s no microSD card slot, so you can’t use it share data among connected devices, but that isn’t a huge deal.

The MHS291L’s 1.32-inch black and white OLED status display features 128-by-96-pixel resolution. It’s a little bit smaller than the 1.54-inch display on the 5510L, but otherwise extremely similar. The home screen shows battery life, connected devices, and signal strength, as well as links to the main menu and data usage reports. There are three physical control buttons to the right of the display, which I found much easier to use than the finicky touch keys on the 5510L.

On the main menu, you can view the modem’s network name and password, see connected devices, and read text messages. You can also toggle between preferred networks and control a host of Wi-Fi settings, like maximum number of connections, band selection, and network mode. Quick access to these settings is convenient, but you can also tap into a wide range of more advanced settings by sending a connected device to the Web-based management console.

And like the 5510L, you can view data usage on the MHS291L’s screen. I raved about this feature the first time around, and I can’t help but stress what a difference this features makes. When you’re spending a lot of money on data, it’s important to know how much of it you’re using. It’ll definitely make you think twice before your next Netflix marathon, which may or may not be a good thing.

Network and Plans
According to our tests for the Fastest Mobile Networks, Verizon no longer leads the nation in 4G LTE speeds—that would be AT&T. But no other carrier can match Verizon for LTE coverage. Just last month, the carrier announced that its nationwide LTE rollout is “substantially complete,” with coverage for over 95 percent of the U.S. population. That means that no matter where you go, you’ll probably have access to LTE, even if those speeds are only the second fastest.

The MHS291L is backward-compatible with Verizon’s 3G network, so you’ll have no problem pulling in a 3G signal when you’re not in an LTE coverage area. It can also be used for Internet access in many other parts of the world—the MHS291L can access wireless data service in more than 205 countries, including more than 125 that support 3G speeds. It also supports quad-band EDGE and HSPA when LTE isn’t available. Just keep a close eye on those pricey roaming agreements.

It costs $20 per month just to use the MHS291L—you’ll need to choose a data plan on top of that. You can start at 4GB for $30 per month, and it gets slightly cheaper the further up you go (10GB costs $60 per month, for instance). Prices like those mean you probably can’t afford to use the UML295 to replace your current home Internet connection.

Performance and Conclusions
The MHS291L works just like your home Wi-Fi network does. Simply turn it on, wait for it to connect to Verizon’s network, then join it as you would any other wireless connection. It will automatically appear in your available wireless connections, and a password (which you can change) is accessible via the Wi-Fi Name/Password option on the hotspot’s display. 

I tested the MHS291L on a hazy summer day in New York City, alongside the UML295 USB modem, on a laptop running Windows 8 and an Apple iPhone 4S. I saw speeds top out at 9Mbps down and 2.25 up on both devices, with averages closer to 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up on the MHS291L. Those numbers aren’t as strong as we saw on Verizon a year ago, but its LTE network is also a lot more crowded now. Luckily, those are still good numbers, and you can expect faster speeds in less plugged-in areas.

Performance remained steady within about 50 feet of the hotspot. It starts to drop off quickly if you move away much further than that, but this range is about average for mobile hotspots.

So while the data doesn’t come cheap, the Jetpack 4G LTE MHS291L is the best hotspot on Verizon, as well as one of the best hotspots around, period. It’s got better battery life than the 5510L, along with a better build and global capability. And both the Jetpack 4620LE and the 890L don’t show you data usage, making the MHS291L your best choice. The MiFi Liberate on AT&T is our other favorite hotspot, with an innovative, informative touch screen, but AT&T’s LTE coverage is not as widespread as Verizon’s. All that makes the MHS291L our latest Editors’ Choice.

Specifications
Cellular Technology EDGE, UMTS, CDMA 1X, LTE, EV-DO Rev A, GSM, HSPA
Service Provider Verizon Wireless
Number of Devices Supported 10
Battery Life 14 hours 37 minutes
Bands 800, 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 700
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
microSD Slot No
Modem Type Hotspot
Mac Compatible Yes

Verdict
The Jetpack 4G LTE MHS291L is the longest-lasting hotspot we've ever tested, and your best bet to get online while on-the-go with Verizon Wireless.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc