When I'm traveling alone and need to connect my computer to the internet, I use my phone as a hotspot. It works fine. It does have a tendency to kick me off periodically, and it's not superfast, but it works.
When I'm traveling with my family, however, using my phone as a hotspot is a pain in the butt. It gets even slower with a few of us connected, it eats up my battery and if I need to make a call, I have to kick everybody offline. Not to mention, if I take my phone with me, their internet is gone.
A good dedicated hotspot solves all of these problems, and adds more capabilities, too. And I just tried out a great one. Netgear sent me the AT&T Unite Explore ($49.99 with a two-year contract, $199 without a contract) to review. It lets you connect up to 15 devices to it at once. I was especially impressed with the parental controls, and talked about the Unite Explore on this week's episode of the Parenting Bytes podcast.
The parental controls are not accessed on the mobile hotspot itself, but through a browser. While you're connected to the hotspot's Wi-Fi, you type attwifimanager into a browser, and you'll be taken to a login screen. The password can be found on a sticker under the hotspot's battery, so you might want to make a note of it before you get connected. You should also change this password once you're logged in.
The parental controls are located under the Security tab, and you have several options, including Schedule Rules, Content Filtering and Website Filtering.
You can set the AT&T Unite Explore to turn the Wi-Fi on and off on a set schedule. For example, let's say your kids like to sneak in some online games late at night when they're supposed to be sleeping. You can set the Wi-Fi to turn on at 8 a.m. and turn off at 10 p.m. You can set it later for weekends, or just turn the set schedules off altogether if your kids aren't around.
To use the Content Filter on the hotspot, you need an OpenDNS account, which takes just a minute to set up. Then, you can choose from different levels of filtering. The lowest level filters out phishing sites. Higher levels can filter out porn and social networks.
The website filtering feature can work to either block certain sites and let the rest through, or to let through only the sites you've listed. So if you have a small child and want them going on only a handful of sites, you can restrict the Wi-Fi to those sites.
To make sure you are not restricted, though, you can mark certain devices as "unrestricted" and not subject to the whitelisting or blacklisting of sites.
Other Features and Pricing
The AT&T Unite also has a family-friendly design, as it's built to take some abuse on the road. It offers a shock- and water-resistant design. Plus, the battery is rated for a long 22 hours of continuous use. There's even a USB port for topping off your phone with a charge.
The AT&T Unite Explore comes with a 5GB data plan for $50 per month, and no other options are available.
The AT&T Unite Explore lets you have control at the hotspot level of what your children are accessing online. Whether it's ensuring your kids have Wi-Fi only when you want them to or controlling which sites they can access, the AT&T Unite Explore will give you the peace of mind you're looking for in both a hotspot and parental controls.
Amy Oztan blogs at AmyEverAfter.com and co-hosts the Parenting Bytes podcast. She can usually be found on her couch in Brooklyn with her husband, two kids, and cat.