The Clearspot Voyager is one of the smallest mobile hotspots that you can carry wherever you go with relative ease. Being a tiny bit over 2 1/2 inches square and weighing less than 2.1 ounces, the voyager is half the size of the iPhone. The device can easily and inconspicuously fit into your pocket or bag, yet this tiny hot spot is powerful enough to provide unlimited 4G Internet access to eight Wi-Fi enabled devices simultaneously. In addition, you are not left out if your Windows or Mac computer does not have Wi-Fi, as the handy Voyager can also be tethered as a USB data modem.
The voyager uses the Clear Wireless 4G network that allows subscribers to access the Internet. The Clear 4G network was one of the first nationwide 4G networks tocame online almost 3 years ago, and is based on the microwave radio based WiMax 4G network. While there's a chance that you may not have heard about the Clear 4G Network, you've like probably heard about Sprint 4G. Although they are two separate companies, the networks are actually one in the same. So if Sprint's trusts it's billions of wireless 4G investment in Clear WiMax, I guess we're in good company.
Benefits of the Clearspot Voyager Mobile Hotspot by Clear Wireless
- Arguably, the biggest benefit of all: Truly Unlimited 4G downloads and uploads
- The ability to share a single 4G mobile broadband connection with up to 8 users or devices
- Built in capability to tether mobile connection over USB; ideal for older or non-Wifi devices
- Super fast download and upload speeds over the nationwide WiMax 4G network. - up to 10 Mbps
- Respectable battery life of 6 hours with regular use
- Fairly low purchase price for the mobile hotspots - less than $100
- Relatively inexpensive 4G data plans range form $35 to $50
- No contracts or early termination fees to worry about
Disadvantages of the Voyager 4G Hotspot
- Only supports 4G: No 3G or 2G support means "no service" where 4G WiMax is unavailable
- Not a viable mobile hotspot choice for business people that travel often due to large gaps in WiMax coverage.
- Inconsistent 4G download speeds, ranging from very slow to very fast. WiMax not as fast as 4G LTE
- Some glitches observed with the battery's power management
- No Wireless-N WiFi support, just the older and slower WiFi-G/B is supported
- Clear Wireless is (arguably) not in the best financial condition. Uncertain future for company and WiMax networks?
Operating the Voyager Hotspot
The Clearspot Voyager is powered-on by a small button on one side, which also features three small LED lights that show status of the 4G signal, Wi-Fi network and power. To turn the device on or off, you hold the power button for a couple of seconds. The power led changes from green to amber to red depending on whether the battery is full, half full or almost empty. Depending on the location, The Voyager took between 15 and 22 seconds to power-cycle-on and connect to the Clear network. The indicator serves its purpose well but I would have preferred a gauge providing more precise measurements. However, there is a better option when you connect the voyager to a computer and use its Web interface.
The other side of the Clearspot Voyager features a micro UBS port from where it can be charged or used as a USB modem. The device can be charged by connecting it to a computer or using its power adapter. In addition to charging, the device will act as modem when connected to a computer running Mac OS 10.6 or Windows Vista or later operating systems. Windows XP users may also use the USB tethering feature, but they must download driver software. It is a plug-and-play device, which means you do not have to install any software for it to run. Using the hotspot feature over Wi-Fi works without any drivers.
You can turn off Wi-Fi network via the Web interface when using it as a USB modem. Otherwise, it will also act as a Wi-Fi router. You will find all the information to set up your Clearspot voyager at its bottom. This is where you will find its default factory supplied Wi-Fi network and encryption key, in addition to what the LED indicators mean. The Web interface makes up for the lack of display on the voyager, which would have made it larger anyway. You can even access the interface via an iPad or iphone Safari browser, which came in handy more than a few times.
It is possible to use various features of the router and customize the Wi-Fi network via the device’s Web interface. Point the Web browser you use on your connected computer to the device’s default IP address, good old familiar http://192.168.1.1, using the default password, “admin.” This is not all you can do via the Web interface. As stated earlier, the Web interface allows you to get more details on battery life. Other things you can get include detailed information about the status of the router and the number of Wi-Fi clients connected to your device. More advanced settings, like the Wi-Fi encryption method, and allowed range of client IP addressees are setup here as well
In addition, the device gives you above average battery life, as compared to other competing hotspots. As per my tests, I could clock just over seven hours of battery life on a single charge with regular use (with some breaks here and there) over the course of a day. Subjecting the Voyager hotspot to the more much rigorous LAPTOP battery test yielded 5 hours 41 minutes. Clear rates the battery at 6 Hours. It's nice to see a manufacturer more or less honest their battery life specs for once.
Testing the device in and around New York City, I found that the Clearspot voyager had 4G reception strength that was way better than I expected. New York Metro area coverage for WiMax 4G is one of the best in the country, so my comparison may not be equitable to other areas. My advice: It''s critically important to check Clear 4G coverage before signing up for their service
Overall, the 4G download speeds of the Clear Mobile Hotspot where closely inline to our AT&T mobile hotspot that uses HSPA+ 4G, but was no where near as fast as Verizon's 4G LTE. Another unfortunate aspect of the Clear 4G was it's inconsistent speeds. In one area we would get 6 Mbps, yet a block away, the speed would drop to 2 Mbps, even though the signal stregth was pretty much unchanged.
Below is a comparison of the Clearspot vs AT&T and Verzion 4G Hotspots in and around New York
Where the 4G signal reception was strong, my download speeds were usually between 1.5 and 8.2 Mbps, while I could upload data at speeds ranging from 300Kbps to 2.3 Mbps. It's the Clearspot's wide variation of speed, especially when locked onto a seemingly strong WiMax signal that was puzzling. The good news was that when the hotspot was on a one of it's "faster modes", the speeds would sustain quite nicely even for hours of continuous downloads. On average, I could download a 1.5 GB HD video from my Dropbox.com share in under an hour. There's a strange feeling I got when letting my laptop actually burn through hundreds of megabytes of data for a single movie over a 4G connection - something that is basically unheard of with traditional mobile broadband providers that DON'T offer unlimited data - it's like a "this has got to be too good to be true" type of feeling. Well, I can tell you, it's definitely a good feeling for sure and it's certainly true!
Oh 3G (or even 2G), Where Art Thou?
After gobbling down gig's of unlimited data in Manhattan, the biggest bummer for me was the train ride home, from New York City to the suburbs of Long Island. Clear's 4G WiMax coverage "ends" right about at the border of NY City outer borough, Queens. Unlike my AT&T Elevate and Verizon Jetpack which would keep connected the entire ride home (albeit a mix of 2G, 3G and 4G), the Clear Voyager has no built support for the more commonly available, but slower 3G and 2G wireless networks. In my situation, loosing the 4G connection while in a moving train was frustrating, all you could do was twiddle our thumbs.
Just about every other mobile hotspot that supports 4G, also supports 3G and 2G. This allows for service to continue when the 4G signal is unavailable or lost. From a marketing perspective, the biggest drawback of the Clearspot and Clear's 4G WiMax network in general is that a certain percentage of potential users will be outside the boundaries of the WiMax 4G network. For these users, the Clearspot can offer an alternative use (a paperweight for their desk ; )
Unfortunately, I could not manage to make the device get into sleep mode when no client was connected, which could have allowed me to squeeze more out of the single charge. The only way around this problem is to turn the device off whenever you are not actively using it. Depending on your use of the Internet, however, this should not pose much of a problem. Solutions for these types of problem are reported to be addressed in device firmware updates, however since this unit was on loan to mobilehotspot.com, we were not in the position to do so.
Speaking of downloading content, you do not have to worry about data bundles because the Clearspot voyager comes with unlimited data plans. You will enjoy unlimited premium speeds for just $49.99 a month. You do not have to worry about any pre-set speed caps or overage fees. If fifty bucks a month is too steep, Clear offers a "reduced speed" version of their unlimited data plan for $34.99 per month. Although I could not test the lower tier plan, the Clear.com website describes it as being about 50% slower then the "full speed" plan. The reduced speed plan seems to offer speeds comparable to 3G, but still delivered over the 4G network. For mobile hotspot owner who care more about having unlimited data, rather than the fastest delivery of their data, the alternate plan offers the chance to save 15 bucks a month.
Verdict and Final Conclusion
The Clearspot Voyager is the first mobile hotspot reviewed by MobileHotspot.com, where our recommendation to invest in it is so heavily based on network coverage of the Clear 4G WiMax Network. Simply put, if the Clear coverage map (as of today) indicates no 4G coverage where you live and/or plan to use the hotspot, then pass on the Clearspot. To roll the dice and gamble on the assumption that Clear 4G WiMax will be coming soon is simply not worth it, especially given all the great alternative mobile hotspots out there.
If you are within Clear’s 4G network coverage, then this device and it's very appetizing Unlimited 4G data plan will likely serve you well, and you can try it without fear considering you will not be tied to any long-term contract. What’s more, you may cancel your monthly plan at any time within the first 15 days and receive a full refund. The mobile hotspot device, while not outstanding by any means, will definitely suffice for the average user, and the comparatively inexpensive "truly unlimited" 4G data plan is the real kicker.
Reviewer: Chuck Montgomery
Mobilehotspot.com Staff Editor
Category: Mobile Hotspot News