As good as the best mobile hotspots are, you might wonder why you need one. After all, if you carry around a smartphone — and there’s a pretty good chance you do — you already tote around a cellular hotspot in your pocket. Why would you need a standalone hotspot device?
The reality is, while a phone can be perfectly adequate as a hotspot for occasional use, there are plenty of instances where a standalone hotspot makes perfect sense. Your phone is often busy doing other things — making phone calls, sending and receiving email, catching up on Slack, Twitter, or the latest news — which also require access to a cellular network. If you don't want the potential disruption or bandwidth limitations of your phone's hotspot, a standalone hotspot can provide additional connectivity. And if that smartphone is your personal device, you may not want to burn up your cellular data allocation for anything other than personal use.
So a mobile hotspot can be a handy thing to have, especially once you're able to move out and about again. If you're about to resume your regular roaming, it might be a good idea to pick up one of the best mobile hotspots now, so that you can stay connected wherever you happen to be headed.
Here's a closer look at the best options for a mobile hotspot.
What are the best mobile hotspots?
Note that mobile hotspots are generally offered through wireless carriers, and unless you’re willing to create an account with a new wireless provider, it’s usually best to add a line of data for a hotspot with your current carrier. Our recommendations note which hotspot works with which wireless carrier.
For those times when a standalone mobile hotspot is what you need to stay connected, the Jetpack 8800L is the best hotspot if you want to connect to Verizon’s network. Based on online research and reviews, this mobile hotspot performs well and is easy to tote around. The best hotspot for AT&T customers is the Nighthawk LTE mobile hotspot, while Sprint subscribers would be well advised to turn to Inseego’s MiFi 8000.
Meanwhile, a hotspot can also come in handy if you do a lot of traveling to other countries and want a seamless way to connect to local cellular networks. The best mobile hotspot for this use case is the Roaming Man G3, which can keep you connected just about anywhere in the world.
Our mobile hotspot rankings used to include a 5G hotspot developed by HTC for Sprint. However, Sprint has stopped offering the HTC 5G Hub. We'd guess that the reason is the completion of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger. T-Mobile is busy integrating Sprint's 5G network into its own 5G coverage, and one of the side effects is that 5G devices Sprint sold in 2019 won't work on the combined 5G network. It's a shame, because the HTC 5G Hub doubled as a smart screen; we hope that a similar 5G-friendly device re-appears to take advantage of the new T-Mobile's 5G network.
These are the best mobile hotspots right now
1. Jetpack 8800L
Best mobile hotspot for Verizon
Price: $199.99 | Screen size: 2.4-inch touchscreen | Connectivity: LTE, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Rated battery life: Up to 24 hours | Size: 4.3 x 2.6 x 0.7 inches | Weight: 5.4 ounces
The Jetpack 8800L is the successor to Verizon's Novatel Jetpack MiFI 7730L, which The Wirecutter previously rated as the best hotspot. The 8800L uses a new Qualcomm modem that is capable of aggregating signals from up to five carriers, meaning that it’s likely you’ll have a great connection no matter where you are, and it supports a broad range of LTE bands and supports UTMS 3G.
Compatible with Verizon's network, the Jetpack 880L can handle international roaming and it supports connectivity for up to 15 Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as laptops. A two-year contract with Verizon will lower the cost of the Jetpack 8800L to $99.
2. Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot
Best mobile hotspot for AT&T
Price: $250 | Screen size: 1.4-inch color | Connectivity: LTE, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Rated battery life: Up to 24 hours | Size: 4.1 x 4.1 x 0.75 inches | Weight: 8.5 ounces
The Nighthawk LTE is the best hotspot for AT&T. It has a display, but it's not touchscreen. You can change configuration options, but they must be changed via a web browser using a device connected to the hotspot.
In practical use, reviewers found the Nighthawk LTE couldn't reach consistent download speeds greater than 40 Mbps, which are below what AT&T's specs advertise. But this AT&T-compatible hotspot does sport stellar battery life, with up to a day of usage. You also get ethernet and USB connectors on the Nighthawk LTE, and you can upgrade its onboard storage to 512 MB. This hotspot is capable of supporting up to 20 devices.
Sign up for a 30-month agreement with AT&T, and you can pay off the Nighthawk LTE in monthly installments of $8.34.
3. MiFi 8000 Mobile Hotspot
Best mobile hotspot for Sprint
Price: $250 | Screen size: 2.4-inch color touchscreen | Connectivity: LTE, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Rated battery life: Up to 24 hours | Size: 4.3 x 2.6 x 0.7 inches | Weight: 5.4 ounces
Sprint's best hotspot, manufactured by Inseego, promises gigabit speeds and a 3-hour charge time. Users can also turn to the MiFi 8000 as a backup battery charging pack for your phone or table with the appropriate cables.
The MiFi 8000 can also provide modem access by being directly connect to your computer using USB. You’re also able to connect to 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands simultaneously for better connection quality and speed.
With a 24-month agreement, Sprint lets you pay off the MiFi 8000 for $2.50 a month.
4. Inseego 5G MiFi M1000
Best 5G mobile hotspot for Verizon
Price: $650 | Screen Size: 2.4-inch color touchscreen | Connectivity: 5G, LTE, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac | Rated Battery Life: Up to 24 hours | Size: 4.9 x 3.5 x 1.2 inches | Weight: 5.7 ounces
The best 5G hotspot for Verizon is the 5G MiFi, and it is big. It has internal fans and even an Ethernet connection. Verizon has launched its 5G service in more than 15 cities, but coverage is limited to certain neighborhoods. Even then, you need to be in sight of a 5G tower, as the millimeter wave technology Verizon is using doesn’t have a very far range and can’t penetrate physical obstructions. Verizon’s 5G is fast, though — we’ve seen speeds topping 1 Gbps when we’ve tested 5G-ready phones on Verizon and have no reason to believe the 5G MiFi would perform any differently when it’s able to connect to Big Red’s network.
Sign a two-year contract with Verizon, and you lower the cost of the 5G MiFi to $500.
5. Roaming Man International Hotspot
Good for travelers
Price: $149 | Screen Size: 3.5-inch color touchscreen | Connectivity: Comprehensive array of international cellular bands | Rated battery Life: 8 to 10 hours | Size: 4.9 x 2.7 x 0.8 inches | Weight: 8.3 ounces
The best hotspot for traveler, the Roaming Man G3 is designed to give you data access anywhere in the world. The device itself looks like an iPhone SE, right down to what appear to be volume buttons on the side of the device. But it runs a version of Android as a backend OS, though it can't really be used as an Android device. That's just what drives the hotspot.
On top of the $149 cost, you’ll pay $7 a day for 500MB of data that you can use in over 130 countries. Roaming Man also offers a rentable hotspot for about $10 a day if you don't want to purchase the G3 outright.
Roaming Man’s rentable hotspot offers all the same features as the G3: It is roughly the size of an iPhone SE, can be used in over 130 countries, the $10/day price includes rental of the device and the same 500MB of data you get with the G3. Additionally, Roaming Man also runs “discount package” deals for some countries, giving you more data for less money depending on your international destination.
What to consider when shopping for a mobile hotspot
Before you shop for a mobile hotspot, consider if you even need one. If your cell phone plan includes hotspot data at LTE speeds, that may be good enough for staying connected. (assuming you don’t plan on using more data than your allotted hotspot amount). If your mobile plan only allows 3G hotspot speeds — or doesn’t support hotspot data at all — you’ll want to consider a separate device.
After considering what network you’ll be using — unless you want separate bills for cellular connectivity, you’ll probably want to stick with the carrier who already provides your smartphone service — make sure to find out how many devices can connect to the mobile hotspot and whether that limits fits your needs.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the size and weight of the mobile hotspot, making sure it’s something you can easily tote around. How you plan to use the hotspot — is this for international travel or just about having backup connectivity on the go — is another consideration since some hotspots are designed specifically for overseas use.
The mobile hotspots we looked at typically cost between $200 to $250 if they offer LTE connectivity. 5G hotspots currently cost about three times that, making them dubious choices unless you happen to spend a lot of time in areas where there’s ample 5G coverage.
If you’re going to buy a hotspot using your current cellular provider, you should expect to pay $10 to 15/month for the additional cellular connection, plus the cost of the device. If you’re getting new service with a new provider, you can expect to pay around $60 a month for 10GB of data.