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Summary:

If you want a mobile hotspot that will last all day, the MiFi Liberate is the device for you. Although it has some puzzling features, this is a device I wouldn’t mind toting around with me in case I need a connection on the go.

mifiliberatefront

I’ve been a MiFi user for years, and only dumped my original hotspot in August when I upgraded to an LTE phone and decided I’d use the phone as a hotspot. It’s been a passable solution, but when I was trying out the latest Novatel MiFi Liberate I realized how much I missed having a separate, reliable hot spot that has its own battery.

And the Liberate, which costs $50 with contract on AT&T’s LTE network, has a hell of a battery. I tested it all day on Thursday and went to bed still trying to run down the battery life. It managed at least 8 hours of use with about three of those hours of streaming YouTube and Hulu at my home during that time. During the day, I tried it downtown in a coffee shop and in the lobby of a building, both of which had many Wi-Fi hotspots to compete with (and maybe even a few AT&T phone users to sap the signal and require bit more pull from the battery.) I also ran the GPS for some of that time. Yet, when I went to bed last night the MiFi Liberate still had a bit of charge left. The company says the Liberate delivers up to 11 hours of charge, and they may be right.

AT&T’s MiFi Liberate (right) next to the original MiFi on Verizon’s network.

Compared to my original MiFi that died after about 3 or 4 hours of use and didn’t support 4G speeds, this was stunning. So far this morning it has taken about two and half hours to completely recharge using the charger provided with the device. I mention this because the day before I performed my tests I had charged it for the night using one of my other Micro USB chargers laying around and the battery indicator was a bit off. It showed me that I had about three-quarters of the battery left, but when I tried to top it off, the screen flashed a message telling me it was fully charged.

Novatel engineers suggested I try using the charger that came with the device and the problem resolved itself. Even if the indication was glitchy, the battery life didn’t seem affected. Battery life was awesome and the LTE speeds on the AT&T network were great, supporting streaming video while I was still and even doing a fair job while I was driving around for a while with the video playing in the car for testing purposes. Speeds were between 3 and 6 Mbps downstream and between 9-10 Mbps upstream, which is faster than my home network.

As far as the device itself, the extra battery capacity does make the device bulkier, but not so large or so heavy I wouldn’t carry it around in my bag everyday just in case I needed a connection. It might not fit into my pocket at 4.06 inches by 2.88 inches, and it is bigger — weighing in at 4.26 ounces — but the battery life is worth it. However, Novatel put all of these other bells and whistles on this device that are at best gimmicky and at worst elevate the cost of the device unnecessarily.

For example, the MiFi has a touchscreen. Not just a screen, but a full-on capacitive touch screen that when you tilt the device, just like a smartphone, it flips orientation. Thus, somewhere in there it has an accelerometer, and a GPS chip and a microSD card slot. All of these things baffle me. A MiFi is about connectivity, keeping you always within reach of the cloud and whatever stuff you might have there.

Notice the SD card slot? Why is it there?

This device is awesome at connecting you to the cloud and keeping you there, but the way its set up, it’s like it doesn’t realize the Internet even exists. For example, it can act as a media server, with the songs or videos on an inserted SD card shared among the 10 devices that you can connect to the gadget, but you have to go to a website to play them. It can stream your location over Wi-Fi to a device using GPS, but it’s unclear why that’s exciting. It can even receive texts.

The single useful feature I used again and again on the touchscreen part of the device was the data usage meter, which might justify the screen depending on cost. But in general I’d rather have a cheaper, dumb connection to the internet as opposed to some fancy, touchscreen gadget that seems overly complicated. But with the battery life and speed, I won’t complain overmuch.

  1. richardgarrison Friday, November 16, 2012

    The screen makes perfect sense to me. Why NOT put it on a device like this? I bet it only adds a couple bucks to the price. I’d much rather read an error message that makes sense then to try to figure out what a couple blinking LEDs mean.
    They should make an app for the SD card storage instead of forcing you to use a browser. I wonder if they will try to say that counts towards your data allocation?
    Finally, this seems like a perfect device for a road trip. Unfortunately, LTE isn’t available from AT&T in my area and I’m guessing it won’t be for at least 1-2 more years. So there’s not point of getting this device at the moment. I wish Verizon had it. Maybe version 2…

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    1. Good points. I may be too simple in my tastes and you are right about error messages. The screen wouldn’t stop me from buying one, I’ll say that.

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  2. More of a gimmick than a revolutionary device IMO. I still think you’re better off getting a smaller hotspot that fits in a front shirt pocket and an external battery that charges BOTH your smartphone and mobile hotspot on-the-go:

    http://lgponthemove.blogspot.com/2012/02/lifestyles-of-mobile-road-warrior.html

    Besides, AT&T’s pathetic data cap would render the MiFi Liberate useless before it’s battery died. There’s this company called Clear, maybe you’ve heard of them…

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  3. my mifi wont turn on even with a charge

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