Holiday Giftables: T-Mobile Prepaid 4G Mobile HotSpot

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What is it? A pre-paid 4G hotspot that converts wireless data access from T-Mobile’s network into a Wi-Fi hotspot for use on up to five different devices.

How much? $130 at T-Mobile—or currently $92 at Amazon.

Who’d like it?

This is a good gift for someone who travels frequently and wants to be able to access decent mobile internet speeds from multiple devices—maybe a laptop and a tablet, for instance—without getting locked into a two-year data contract or paying separate data charges for each device. With plenty of airports and hotels still charging for Wi-Fi, this little number can ultimately pay for itself, with the added bonus of working anywhere there’s a T-Mobile signal.

Once the hardware has been purchased, data can be purchased separately whenever it’s needed. In other words, you can give the hardware to someone as a gift and then let them worry about loading it up with data when they want to use it. Prepaid packages run $10, $30 or $50 for 100 megabytes, one gigabyte or three gigabytes of data, respectively. The data for the $10 package must be used within seven days; the other two packages are good for 30 days.

I recently tested this device on the train between Boston and New York, and when there was a 4G signal available, it was speedy enough to be well worth the financial outlay. However, in more remote pockets, the service fell back on pokey “EDGE” technology, which is unbearably slow.

Make sure to check T-Mobile’s coverage area to make sure you’re in the clear, and make peace with the convoluted state of “4G” marketing that’s winding its way throughout the wireless industry right now—this 4G hotspot is “only” HSPA+. Whatever the case, I can tell you that with a strong signal, it’s plenty fast to provide access to a couple of devices at the same time, though I wouldn’t make a habit of sharing the connection with strangers. In that spirit, the hotspot is password-protected by default to prevent unauthorized connections.

Check out more of Techland’s 2011 holiday coverage…