Hotspots are awesome. I use them whenever I travel for work. But I’d never buy one of my own, for one simple reason: Data is insanely expensive. The $19.99 Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi 5510L can’t help bring down the cost of data, but it can help control how much you use. With real-time data usage reporting right on the hotspot’s display, you can decide whether you really need to download that huge attachment, or if it can wait until Wi-Fi. We still prefer the 4620LE (a new version of the MiFi 4620L with an extended battery) for its better controls and global capabilities, but the 5510L is a better bet if you’re looking to manage your data usage.
Design and Data Plans
Made by Novatel Wireless, the 5510L measures 3.9 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.3 ounces. It’s shaped like an ovular hockey puck, but is nowhere near as sturdy. To be blunt, it looks and feels cheap. The front and sides are coated in a shiny, slippery plastic, while the bottom is matte black. There’s a red ring around the otherwise all-black face of the device, and it illuminates whenever the display is on. Some light leaks out from the bottom as well. Compared with the sturdier 4620L, I felt like I was waiting for the 5510L to tell me when my table was ready. There’s also no external antenna port, like you get on the 4620L. Neither hotspot has a microSD card slot, so you can’t use a memory card as a shared drive between connected devices.
The 5510L’s 1.54-inch black and white OLED is very similar to the one you’ll find on the 4620L. The home screen shows battery life, notifications, and signal strength, as well as how many devices are connected to the hotspot. Beneath the display are three touch-based function keys: two to move back and forth, and one to select. Unfortunately, I found these controls to be rather finicky—if you tap too quickly it won’t register. I like the physical control keys on the 4620L much more.
On the device itself, you can choose to view settings for the hotspot’s battery, connected devices, data usage, messages, network, signal strength, software updates, and Wi-Fi name and password. You can make some minor adjustments here, but you’ll have to use the Web-based management console for more advanced preferences.
Unlike other hotspots, there’s a section right on the bottom left corner of the display that lets you view data usage. This shouldn’t be such a groundbreaking feature, but no other hotspot makes it quite this easy. Knowing how much data you’ve used makes it a lot easier to avoid painful overage fees, so this is a great feature if you’re looking to conserve those precious megabytes.
According to our Fastest Mobile Networks tests, Verizon’s 4G LTE network is currently the fastest, most widely available LTE network out there. But it doesn’t come cheap, as there’s no unlimited data plan. It costs $20 per month just to use the 5510L—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). That’s a little cheaper than data cost a year ago, but you still can’t use the 5510L to replace your current home Internet connection. After all, you can chew through 10GB worth of streaming video on Netflix in a single day.
Unlike the world-compatible 4620L, as well as the Jetpack 890L, the 5510L works on Verizon’s network in the U.S. only. It’s backward-compatible with the carrier’s 3G network, so you’ll have no problem pulling in a 3G signal when you’re not in a 4G coverage area.
Performance, Battery Life, and Conclusions
Like most hotspots, the 5510L is very easy to use. All you have to do is turn it on and wait about 30 seconds for it to connect to Verizon’s network, then connect to it as you would with any other wireless connection. It automatically appears 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.
Once you’re connected, you can access a Web-based administration page to modify the hotspot’s settings. Here, you can check data usage, view connected devices and messages, and access advanced settings. You can choose to have the hotspot automatically shut down after a certain amount of time without any devices connected, and control how long the display stays on. You can also modify Wi-Fi settings, like your network name and password, 802.11 mode, maximum connected devices, and even range (a longer range gets you shorter battery life). Then there are advanced settings with options for manual DNS, firewall, LAN, and port filtering.
I tested the 5510L on two very rainy/snowy days in New York City. It pulled in peak speeds of around 6Mbps down and 5Mbps up, though they only averaged about half that. These speeds aren’t as fast as what we’ve seen in the past, but Verizon’s 4G LTE network is much more crowded now, and the crummy weather may have affected results somewhat. Just to make sure, I ran some speed tests on an HTC Droid DNA at the same time and came up with nearly identical results. Performance was consistent within about 50 feet of the hotspot, but dropped off precipitously after that, which is normal.
The 5510L’s 1800mAh battery lasted for a respectable 5 hours and 14 minutes of LTE streaming. That’s better than both the 890L and 4620L, but Verizon is now offering the 4620LE. We haven’t tested it yet, though it’s virtually the same device as the 4620L but with a bigger battery that’s capable of up to 10 hours of usage. You can also connect the 5510L to a laptop via micro USB cable, or plug it into the wall using the included micro USB wall charger. The device can still transmit data when charging, so you don’t need to worry about battery life as long as a power outlet is within reach.
If you’re a data usage nut—and let’s face it, at these prices, who isn’t?—the Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi 5510L is an excellent choice. Still, the 4620LE is still a better hotspot overall. It only costs a little more, and has a sturdier build, much better controls, and possibly double the battery life. It also works around the world. The 890L, meanwhile, is another global hotspot, but it suffers from the same lackluster touch controls as the 5510L, as well as potential security flaws.
More Cellular Modem Reviews:
|Cellular Technology||LTE, EV-DO Rev A|
|Service Provider||Verizon Wireless|
|Number of Devices Supported||10|
|Battery Life||5 hours 14 minutes|
|Bands||800, 1900, 700|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc