My brother Patrick and I are just over a year apart in age, and we are a lot alike. For example, we both love living on the coast—he’s in California and I’m in Connecticut. We enjoy playing sports—he’s a golfer, and I play tournament tennis, and we're both fussy about food—he's a vegan, and I wouldn't eat a vegetable if you paid me.
Recently, we also both decided to try out a dedicated 4G mobile hotspot. A few months ago Patrick signed up for the AT&T Elevate Dual-4G mobile hotspot, and two weeks ago I got the Verizon MiFi 4620L Jetpack LTE. Just the other day after using our, our phone conversation somehow morphed into a somewhat heated discussion of who had purchased the best mobile hotspot.
I’ll never convince him my Jetpack 4620L is better than his Elevate 4G, but he can’t convince me his hotspot is better than mine either. At the end of our conversation, and without much detailed comparison, Patrick and I agreed that the Jetpack and the Elevate were probably very close in performance, price, speed and features. With that, I set out to compare these two flagship mobile hotspot devices from Verizon and AT&T – surely, each would have strengths and weaknesses that might translate into a be better suited hotspot for users with different requirements.
Our hotspot conversation started with both of us griping about our cheesy battery life. With constant use in the best of circumstances, you would be lucky to see 4 hours of usage before the battery needs a charge. That’s an improvement over the battery life of earlier models, especially since these have 4G radios, but it still isn’t as much time as either Patrick or I want from our hotspots.
The Jetpack’s battery life seems to correlate to how much time the hotspot was connected to Verizon's 4G LTE networks. When connected 100% of the time to 4G LTE, my Jetpack lasted between 3 hours 25 minutes and 3 hours 55 minutes. During a road-trip, when I could only pickup 3G for perhaps 80% of the time, my Jetpack went as long as 4 hours and 35 minutes.
Interestingly, both my MiFi 4620L Jetpack and his Elevate 4G gave us each about 3 hours 30 minutes of continuous use when streaming video to our New iPads . Patrick insisted he once had more than five hours of nonstop Pandora music streaming… probably because he’s so competitive and always has like to win, but I'd have to see it to believe it.
The truth is, neither battery holds up much longer than four hours before you need to hook it up to your charger. I told him about the news that Verizon is just about to debut a replacement "fat battery" that gives the MiFi 4620L Jetpack a longer battery life - reportedly up to 8 hours. Patrick wasn’t impressed. So in the end we agreed that neither battery lasted longer than the other and moved on. Battery Life Advantage: Elevate
Engineering and Design Features
Patrick was excited to tell me his Elevate 4G is bigger than my Jetpack. I had to remind him that when it comes to technology, this is not necessarily a good thing! His AT&T Elevate 4G is a bit bigger than my Verizon hotspot but not substantially larger, so there’s no need to brag about size. The Elevate is about 0.7 inch thick and weighs approximately 3.6 ounces. My 4620L Jetpack weighs in at 3.2 ounces and is a mere 0.5 inches thick
The funny thing about the Elevate is that when you see it in a photo, you would swear the thing is about the size of a cigar box, had you not known otherwise. It was only a couple of weeks ago when in Best Buy that I saw an Elevate mobile hotspot live up close for the first time. It’s a lot smaller than what I imagined to be. Quite nice looking.
The design aesthetics of the two mobile hotspots couldn't be more different. The Elevate is much more angular, with a definite "high tech" appearance, where the Jetpack sports a "chrome" trimmed, smooth-rounded look that I would say was inspired from a 1957 Chevy - I guess would be best described as "retro-tech"Overall, the Jetpack has a really nice mix of functionality, such as the placement of it's buttons and protective "bumpers" on the edges. Design and Engineering Advantage: Jetpack
On board Wi-Fi Technology
Both the Jetpack and Elevate support the newest Wi-Fi technology know as “Wireless N”, as well as all the security features found on your homes Wi-Fi router, like WPA, WEP, WPS Configuration. Since mobile broadband networks are no way near as fast as the 108Mbps wireless transfer speed of Wireless-N, there’s not much to benchmark between our two mobile hotspots for maximum WiFi speed. So lets look at one aspect of our mobile hotspots that does matter to most of us on a daily basic: The Wi-Fi signal strength and radius:
We compared each mobile hotspot’s Wi-Fi network’s range of service and agreed they both were able to create a hotspot with a 100% signal strength and speed within a 30 foot radius. I would say that I use my mobile hotspot within 30 feet 98% of the time.
If the devices that we wanted to connect to our hotspots were in generally direct line of sight, we could stretch that range to as much as 100 feet. Using my Jetpack hotspot outdoors, I was able to get a maximum of 145 feet, at which Windows reported the connection to be 2Mbps (normally 54 Mbps) , with only 1 out 5 bars of signal strength.
In my backyard, at 145 feet from the Jetpack, I was able to navigate and read some of my favorite blogs, and aside for the few seconds required for the website to initially load, the web browsing was not as dreadfully slow as I expected. The most Wi-Fi signal strength Patrick was able to muster was “about 100 feet”(my apologies for his lack of precision) , at which point the Elevate’s Wi-Fi signal could not be detected. Who has the Wi-Fi Edge?: Jetpack (by a very small margin)