Monday, October 4, 2010

My Clear iSpot Review

I know it's taken me a long time to do a review of the iSpot, but I really wanted to put it through its paces.  Also, work has been bogging me down. But that's another story.

Here's a quick rundown of what the iSpot is:  it's a mobile hotspot for iOS devices only that will provide 4G speeds through Clear (basically the same WiMax network as Sprint).  The iSpot has only 4 hours of battery life, so it won't turn your iPod Touch into a 24-hour a day phone, but it can be handy for iPhone/iPad users that use a lot of data and could use second faster network.  Right now, the only network that the iPhone and iPad uses for cellular data is the AT&T 3G network.

I got the iSpot for ($29.99 versus the normal $99.99) for a limited time deal back in August.  I pay $25 a month for unlimited 4G data with no contract, meaning that I can stop and start my service just about any time I want.

On that note, let's get straight to the review!

Speed Is Everything

Let's start with what I don't like about the device.  If the Sprint/Clear WiMax network in your area is a full 6Mbps down and 1Mbps up then this device rocks.  If it isn't, this device might fail to impress.  It's that simple.

When I was testing speeds back in August when I got the iSpot, the 4G network would in some areas be faster than the AT&T 3G network and slower in others.  I used both my iPhone 4 and iPad to test.   So, depending on your location, you could have a really fast 4G network or a really slow one.  The slowest 4G speed that I tested:  636Kbps.  I was getting that speed on the AT&T 3G network two years ago.  If you're using an iPhone 3G, the speeds will be even slower.  I guess the processing power of the device affects overall speed.

Since the 4G network is less prevalent than 3G, you also won't get 4G deep in buildings where 3G is available.  I can't get 4G in most places at my workplace.  I have to be right up against the window to get a signal.

To be fair, the best 4G speed in Honolulu is about 4Mbps which is pretty darn good for a network that needs to be upgraded.  But then again, I can get 2+Mbps on the top end of the AT&T 3G network.  Unless you're downloading or streaming video, I don't know if most smartphone/tablet users will be able to tell the difference.

What's The Advantage Of Getting An iSpot?

If 4G speeds are so wildly unpredictable, why did I keep the iSpot?  I had 14 days to return it for a full refund.

I kept the iSpot to be able to download apps or other media that is larger than 20MB.  Right now, Apple/AT&T has a 20MB data cap on how much you can download through AT&T's 3G network per app or other type of media.  I hate being on the road and seeing this really cool game that I want right now and not being able to download it.  Once, I went on a "fishing expedition" to get to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot to download an app.  Since the iSpot is used through Wi-Fi, you don't have the same restriction as the cellular network.

And as I said earlier, the Clear WiMax network is significantly faster in some areas than the AT&T 3G network.  At Aloha Stadium where our local college team plays, the AT&T 3G network goes down to EDGE or no service at all in some parts of the stadium.  I gave my sister my iSpot and told her to try it at the stadium.  She said it's REALLY fast there and she is happy that she can now upload pictures.

I also have faith that the WiMax network will be upgraded to its full potential.  An LTE-capable iPhone or iPad is at least two years away on AT&T.  IF Verizon gets the iPhone, iPad or both we could see an LTE product in 2011 but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Final Thoughts

So, the iSpot isn't for everyone.  It won't replace a 3G network since 4G coverage is nowhere as good in most places.  If you know for a fact that the Clear/Sprint 4G network in your area is fast and has really good coverage then I wholeheartedly recommend it.  Otherwise, exercise caution.

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