Everyone wants to stay connected. There are emails and texts to read, videos to watch and games to play. Use your phone for these though and you're burning through megabytes and gigabytes of data. Wouldn't it be better if you could get on WiFi everywhere you go?

That's the idea behind mobile hotspot devices. They let you create a WiFi network, just like the one you have at home but portable. No more lingering over a cold coffee in Starbucks while you use their WiFi: just connect instantly wherever you are.

WiFi on-the-go

The subject of this article is mobile hotspot devices. More specifically, we're going to review eight of the best-selling such devices so you can decide which will suit you, your family or maybe your customers, best.

If you haven't already been through our other piece on this subject, “How to get WiFi in Your Car”, you might want to take a look before reading this. It provides a more general introduction to the why's and how's of in-car WiFi but without the individual product reviews. Here we'll quickly summarize the advantages before getting into the details of what to look for and why.

Best WiFi Hotspot Devices For Your Car – Our Top Picks

Novatel Jetpack MiFi 7730L

Novatel Jetpack MiFi 7730L Quick Review

This uses the Verizon 4G LTE network so you can expect coverage almost everywhere in the US and high speeds. (A nano-SIM card is needed to get on the network.) Real-world battery life is up to 15 hours and it weighs only 5.4oz, so it’s very portable.

The touchscreen works well and helps with initial setup. It shows data used so you can keep track of your consumption. Along the sides you’ll find a USB-A charging outlet and two antenna ports. It provides both 2.4 and 5 GHz simultaneously and users report good range.

Netgear AirCard 790S

Netgear Nighthawk M1 MR1100 top view of wifi hotspot for car

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Netgear AirCard 790S Quick Review

This relatively simple devices weighs-in at 4.8 oz, connects up to 15 devices and has 2.4” color touchscreen with data usage monitor. In other words, it's a fairly basic hotspot that's easy to set up and use. Battery life is a claimed 11 hours. It operates on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, requires a microSIM card and provides dual TS-9 antenna ports.

Verizon Ellipsis Jetpack MHS800L

Verizon Ellipsis Jetpack MHS800L one of the best mobile hotspots for cars

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Verizon Ellipsis Jetpack MHS800L Quick Review

Very small and also inexpensive, the particular one reviewed here is locked to Verizon but you may be able to find them for other networks.

About the size of a credit card and weighing under 3 oz, it allows connections to eight devices. There is a very small display that shows how many devices are connected, plus data usage, battery life & network signal strength. Battery life is up to 10 hours. It does require that you buy a SIM card separately.

Alcatel Hotspot 4G LTE

Alcatel Hotspot 4G LTE front image icons lit

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Alcatel Hotspot 4G LTE Quick Review

Historically, T-Mobile has not offered a lot of hotspot options. This is device is available both on their network and unlocked.

It's a more basic device with no display, just indicator lights to let you know it's working, and it works only on 2.4GHz. It does allow up to 15 connections, weighs 3.7 oz and has a battery life of about six hours. A USB port makes car charging easy but there are no antenna ports. You will need to buy a separate SIM card.

ZTE Velocity 4G LTE Mobile WiFi Hotspot

ZTE Velocity 4G LTE Mobile WiFi Hotspot front of car wifi hotspot device with screen on

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ZTE Velocity 4G LTE Mobile WiFi Hotspot Quick Review

This is the second generation Velocity hotspot, and reportedly much improved over the first. It provides 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi frequencies and lets you connect up to 10 devices simultaneously. Battery life is 10 hours and it charges through USB-C charger. There is an easy to use touchscreen display and the devices weighs 8 oz. It does need a microSIM card.

KuWFi 300Mbps 3G 4G LTE Car WiFi

KuWFi 300Mbps 3G 4G LTE Car WiFi top of device with antennae

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KuWFi 300Mbps 3G 4G LTE Car WiFi Quick Review

This is a little different to the other mobile devices reviewed here. It's a big chunky box with four antennas that create a vaguely menacing appearance. It also needs more in the way of technical skills to set up. There's a USB port plus four LAN Ethernet ports, an SD card slot and a SIM card slot. It will support AT&T, Verizon and Sprint networks with the appropriate SIM card. Weight is 1.76 lbs.

When you need a mobile WiFi device

Phones are wonderful devices in many ways but they have some limitations too. Here's a list of ways in which mobile WiFi beats a cellular connection.

  • Data caps. Unless you're on a costly unlimited plan there's a limit to how many hours of video and music you can download each month. WiFi overcomes that.
  • Working on a big screen. Spreadsheets and graphics are just two examples of software products that are hard to use on a phone. When the boss emails that big file you want to be able to read it while you're on the road.
  • Using a keyboard and mouse. Ditto to the above.
  • Connect multiple devices simultaneously. Say you're on a family roadtrip and everyone wants to use their device: with a WiFi hotspot you can all get on the same network. The same applies to those awkward work trips colleagues are sometimes forced to make.
  • Security. Public WiFi hotspots are vulnerable to attack. That might not be a concern if you're just checking Facebook but would you bank over a connection like that? A personal mobile hotspot is far more secure.

Alternative technologies

Check the settings on your phone and you'll probably see it has a “hotspot” function. This lets you set up a mobile WiFi network. It's a good option when you need to connect a few devices for a short period, but over longer periods it has some negatives.

  • Drains the battery – phone must be plugged in to charge
  • Uses your data plan
  • Cellular service providers dislike “tethering” (using your phone as a hotspot,) because it sends a lot of data through their network. Even on an unlimited plan your provider may impose penalties or speed caps.
  • Limit to how many devices can be connected. (Typically three to five.)

3G versus 4G – and what about 5G?

3G, 4G and in the near future, 5G, refer to cellular network speeds. This is relevant because mobile hotspot devices send and receive data over cellular networks. 4G is faster than 3G, and 5G promises to be faster still. When shopping for a device it's important to consider what speed you'll need.

The two drivers behind this are: the number of devices you expect to connect and what you'll be doing with them. If you're investing in a mobile hotspot purely to send and receive email while out of the office a 3G connection may be fast enough. Alternatively, if you want WiFi in a RV so a small brood of kids can all watch different movies at the same time you should definitely go for 4G. (And 5G will be even better when it becomes available)