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Mobile 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot: iPad vs. NetZero vs. Jetpack

How does the 4G iPad stack up against some of the dedicated mobile hotspot competition if you need to connect your devices on the go?

Nobody goes out to buy a 4G iPad expecting to use it only as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. But, independent testing has confirmed that the iPad is capable of acting as a Wi-Fi hotspot for a full 24 hours under the right conditions, so it has its benefits. Visit iPad 4 release date, specs and rumour round-up.

A 4G iPad is certainly not the cheapest device you can get to act as a mobile hotspot. So, let's take a little closer look at how it stacks up against other dedicated mobile hotspot options out there.

4G iPad

The iPad itself starts at $500 for a 16GB Wi-Fi only model, but the 4G-enabled devices are $130 more, so buying a 4G iPad starts at $630--far more expensive than either of the dedicated mobile hotspot devices.

As a mobile hotspot, the iPad has two things going for it. First, the aforementioned battery life of 24 hours. Second, it has versatility the other options lack because it is, in fact, a tablet as well. So, it's a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot with "Retina" display, and tens of thousands of apps.

Keep in mind, though, that using it as a tablet is a tradeoff. The 24 hour endurance as a hotspot is dependent on turning off the display and not using it for anything other than a Wi-Fi hotspot. Everything you do on the iPad itself will consume battery life as well and reduce that 24-hour timeframe.

In order to share a data connection and use the iPad as a 4G hotspot, the cheapest data plan you can get with Verizon is the 5GB plan for $50 per month. You can connect up to five devices at once.

NetZero 4G Hotspot

NetZero is most well known as a free or cheap dial-up Internet provider, but it hasn't been heard from in quite some time. It emerged from the ashes recently, though, to jump into the mobile Wi-Fi game.

The NetZero 4G Hotspot device itself costs $99. NetZero claims it will run for more than 6 hours when fully charged, and it can connect up to eight devices at a range of up to 150 feet.

The nice thing is that NetZero provides 200MB per month of bandwidth for free. The caveat is that the free 200MB plan is only good for a year, or until you upgrade to a paid plan--whichever comes first. Once you switch off the free plan you can never go back.

The paid service with NetZero runs $10 a month for 500MB, $20 per month for 1GB, $35 a month for 2GB, and $50 a month for 4GB. There are no overage fees with NetZero because the service simply stops working when you max out your allotted bandwidth.

Verizon 4G Jetpack

The Verizon JetPack is the only one of these three options, which can be acquired cheaper by subsidizing it through a two-year commitment to a Verizon data plan. If you buy it with a contract, it's only $70, but we're going to compare it based on the no-contract price of $270.

The Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE (also known as the MiFi 4510L) only allows five simultaneous Wi-Fi connections like the iPad, and it has the lowest endurance of the three with an estimated five hours of hotspot time on a full charge.

As with the Verizon 4G iPad, you have to get a 5GB data plan for $50 per month to share the data connection. If you go over the 5GB, each additional 1GB costs another $10.

The Verdict

Which one of these makes the most sense depends on your needs. At $630 for the 4G iPad compared with only $99 for the NetZero 4G Hotspot, NetZero is clearly a cheaper solution.

NetZero also has better battery life than the Verizon device, allows you to connect more devices simultaneously than the iPad or the Jetpack, and provides 200MB of data for free (at least for awhile). It also has the advantage of offering smaller, cheaper data plans for sharing so you're not required to spend $50 for 5GB if you don't really need it.

However, if you're buying the new iPad anyway, that changes the math some. If you plan to buy a new Apple iPad, and you're just trying to decide between Wi-Fi only or 4G, then you're only talking about an additional $130 investment which puts it much closer to the cost of the NetZero device.

The $50 a month you have to spend for a data plan to use the iPad as a Wi-Fi hotspot is higher than some of the smaller data plans at NetZero, but think about that for a second. You're trying to connect multiple devices to share a blazing 4G connection--how long do you think it will take to burn through 500MB or 1GB? What happens when you're in the middle of important business and you exceed your NetZero data plan, and your service just stops?

The bottom line is that you probably don't want to buy an iPad to act primarily as a mobile hotspot, but if you're already going to have a 4G iPad at your disposal it would be silly to invest in a separate dedicated mobile hotspot.

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