Gadling Gear Review: NetZero 4G Mobile Hotspot

There was a terrible noise this morning at our house – the garbage truck ripped out our cable hub and left us without an Internet connection. This is, to put it mildly, a problem at our house where we have two work-at-home Internet junkies. I had been intending to test NetZero’s mobile hotspot for a while but with a fat connection at home, I lacked the motivation and I don’t have upcoming travel on deck. This unexpected accident gave me the incentive I needed to check it out.

Set up is very easy. Plug in the device to charge it and turn it on. You’re done. Like other mobile Internet devices I’ve tried, your success with the hardware doesn’t indicate success with connecting to the web. The hotspot works best near a window – walking around the house revealed that it picked up a stronger signal in some places than others. And my neighborhood, while it does, indeed, have NetZero service, is not very strong. Placement is key.

Connecting to the signal takes as long as it takes. At my house it took about five minutes to hook up to the network – your mileage may vary depending on where you live. Once you’re connected, you might want to look under the hood at the settings. My hub was set to the lowest transmission power by default and it was glacial, I could barely load my email in the basic HTML view. Not useful for a harried Internet junkie. It’s not hard to change the settings, but it’s also not that easy to find the information on how to change them, you’ll have to do some digging.Once you’re all up and running, you can connect up to eight devices to the hotspot. At my house, things started to bog down with two computers hooked up – if you’re in a location with a more powerful signal, you can support more gadgets. So, geographic limitations aside, this thing is easy to set up, easy for nerds to configure for a better experience, and easy to connect to.

The catch here is, of course, your data use, and that’s where the expense is. The hub hotspot is currently on sale for $49.95, but you’ll need a data plan, too. The top tier plan is currently $49.95 for 4GB of data per month. The hub itself costs $49.95 (it’s currently on sale, down from $99.95.) In our house, we use easily ten times that much data. Streaming video is our biggest burner, but I post high res photos, I move documents over a virtual private network (VPN) connection … I’m a data hog. I’d burn through that 4GB in no time.

Given my data excesses, it’s difficult for me to make a case for this device as part of my kit. It feels almost like it’s best for exactly what I’m using it for today – Internet backup. I could see throwing it in the car for camping trips or in my bag from places that charge extra for Wi-Fi. It’s cheaper than a data plan for my phone when it comes to international roaming, but the coverage is US only, so it doesn’t help me with data roaming.

NetZero is essentially offering pay-as-you-go Internet. This is handy for folks wandering the US who want to manage their own access and have it whenever they want, wherever they are (that there’s NetZero coverage). You don’t have to have a contract, so that’s an advantage as well. I’m not sold though, on the idea as a concept. Hotels and even campgrounds increasingly offer Wi-Fi, as does that coffee shop you stopped at on your road trip. A casual user can drop into a public library or even a McDonald’s to get free Wi-Fi.

I’m very happy to have this service to try out today, given that we’re unhooked from the grid at home. I’d file this under casual or emergency user and call it good.

[Image credit: NetZero]

Free Internet For Travelers In Japan

Japan

Japan can be an expensive country in which to travel. Food, lodging, along with other goods and services that travelers might commonly buy are often high-priced, compared to American standards. Comparing Internet Wi-Fi hotspots to American standards, Japan is even tougher on visitors, offering few places for service and even less that support multiple languages. But recently, two companies operating in Japan started offering free Wi-Fi to foreign visitors.

Rail operator JR East Japan now has free public wireless LAN services intended for visiting travelers starting today at JR EAST Japan Travel Service Center and 13 stations located on Tokyo’s most famous circle rail route, the Yamanote Line, including some of the busiest stations.

Registration by email can be done in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese for access via PC or smartphone at a variety of locations including Tokyo Station, Narita Airport Station and Haneda Airport International Terminal Station. Users can log on to a connection that is valid up to three hours.Visa Worldwide has partnered with Wire and Wireless Co., Ltd. to launch free one-day Wi-Fi access for all Visa cardholders visiting Japan. Happening right now, the offer runs through August 29, 2014.

This free one-day Wi-Fi connection also has multi-language support for visiting tourists, followed by a 20 percent discount for three-day and seven-day Wi-Fi service. Wi-Fi networks are available throughout Japan, including major airports and leading merchants such as Starbucks and Lawson convenience stores.

Visa cardholders should register before departure from their home countries. Alternatively, after they arriving in Japan, visiting cardholders simply find either “Wi2″ or “Wi2premium” access points to access the website for registration.

Looking for other public places with free Internet access? Try WiFiFreeSpot.com or Airport WiFi Guide for more listings.



[Flickr photo by Dennis Wong]

Cheat On Your Cellphone Service With Tep Wireless

Tep Wireless If you are a smartphone user and love to travel, this has probably happened to you: you return from a trip abroad to find your cellphone service provider has piled on hundreds of dollars for roaming charges and data usage. No matter that you purchased an international plan or topped up with extra data before you left. You’re now faced with a huge bill and a growing ulcer from the stress of it all.

Some elect for a workaround, getting an unlocked phone and performing the old SIM-card switcheroo when traveling overseas – but that’s not especially convenient. What is convenient is a Tep pocket Wi-Fi, a personal hotspot that lets you cheat on your cellphone service with pay-by-the-day Wi-Fi.

Here’s how it works:First, you book your service with Tep, providing information on where you are traveling, dates of travel and a delivery address. Tep will deliver your device to either your home address or to your hotel.

Second, your device arrives, complete with charging equipment, a small tag indicating the name of the Wi-Fi network and its password, and a postage-paid return pouch. Just locate the network on your phone or laptop – the hotspot signal is strong enough for use with about five devices – enter the password, and you’re ready to go.

Finally, when your trip is done, simply pack up the Tep equipment in the mailing pouch and pop it in the mail.

During a recent test drive of Tep’s Wi-Fi hotspot, the thing I found most difficult was printing out a return label and sending it back. Tep pays postage on the pouch but emails the return label, leaving it to customers to remember to print out return labels before embarking on trips. That’s not so convenient.

On the bright side, I got excellent connectivity on three devices simultaneously, including an older model iPhone that is Wi-Fi only.

If you are heading to the London Olympics or to any of 38 European countries this summer, Tep is offering rates starting at $5 per day for a 30-day plan (3G data) to $9.99 per day for a five-day plan (500 MB data). Customers can pay an additional $6.95 per day for unlimited data.

This plan will allow you to fly, drive or take the train across the continent without losing connectivity. If you’re traveling to London, Tep has partnered with Heathrow Airport and Paddington Station to enable pick-up of its devices at designated terminals.

While Tep is designed for travelers visiting Europe or the United Kingdom, it also works in the United States, which means that you could ostensibly use it as an option when traveling domestically.

I’m heading to Maine soon and I wish I would have known about Tep before I shelled out the extra fees for a cabin equipped with Wi-Fi. Ideally, I’d unplug all together. But let’s save that discussion for another article.