The 7 Best Portable Wi
May 16, 2023
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Stay connected anytime and (almost) anywhere.
THE IDEA of a full "digital detox" while traveling or on vacation—that is, completely disconnecting from email, social media, and your daily Insta fix—sounds good in theory. But most of us can't, or just won't, commit to going dark for more than a few waking hours. Maybe you’re a workaholic, or you’re addicted to 24-hour news, or just have to share those hourly photos with your tens of Instagram followers. Whatever the reason, you'll need a reliable internet connection—one that works anytime and almost anywhere. That's where a portable Wi-Fi hotspot comes in.
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As the name implies, portable Wi-Fi hotspots create a wireless, internet-connected zone that you can take almost anywhere. Just like with your Wi-Fi connection at home or work, you can connect any internet-ready device, from smartphones and tablets to laptops and gaming systems. Most work just like modern smartphones: Just drop a SIM card into the hotspot, power on the device, wait a minute or two for the hotspot to connect to your mobile service provider, and you’re in business
Under the hood, these hotspots are sophisticated devices, just like a smartphone. But the best portable Wi-Fi hotspots are extremely easy to use, efficient with their data usage, and work in countries around the world. Budget models can be had for under $100, while the best, most premium hotspots run north of $600. The good news is that you don't have to spend a fortune. Not sure where to start? We’ve done the hard work by researching, testing, and comparing many of the top-selling, most well-reviewed models, so you don't have to. Here are our picks for the best portable Wi-Fi hotspots worth buying in 2023.
About the Expert: I’ve spent most of my life hiking, kayaking, camping, and exploring the great outdoors. For more than a decade, I’ve traveled the world, including all seven continents, and covered outdoor and adventure travel, sharing my advice on Forbes, Travel + Leisure, CNET, and National Geographic. These days, I personally evaluate outdoor gear and tech gadgets (like the best portable Wi-Fi hotspots) for Men's Health from my home base south of Boston. So, you might say I’m a little gear-obsessed.
GlocalMe has been around for longer than most other portable Wi-Fi hotspot brands, and it shows. Their G4 Pro 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot Router looks more like a smartphone, with a bright, 5-inch touchscreen display and easy-to-use design. Just power it on, and go. You can easily check the stats for your account, including total data usage, connected devices, connection status, and more. It also provides built-in blacklisting and data usage protection to keep your account (and your precious data) locked down.
What really sets this device apart is the pay-as-you-go model. There's no contract and no SIM card required, making it a snap to get up and running straight out of the box. You can choose to pay per GB of data, per day, or per year, with a number of plans to suit your needs. The G4 Pro also works in more than 140 countries around the world, so it's perfect for even the most hardcore of travelers. It's also priced extremely well at $170 with 1 GB of global data and plans as low as $1.59/1GB (USA local package). All of which is why this device is our pick for the best portable Wi-Fi hotspot overall in 2023.
What do buyers say? "This device is amazing. The internet works better than my home Wi-Fi, pages load quicker," said one Amazon reviewer.
If you’re a serious traveler who needs maximum coverage, this portable Wi-Fi hotspot from RoamWi-Fi is your man. It offers coverage in more than 160 countries—more than any other in our roundup, including our best overall pick. So, wherever you’re planning to go, it (probably) has you covered. While it lacks the sleek touchscreen of GlocalMe's G4 Pro, we appreciate the simplicity of the design. It's small enough to stash in a front pocket, while the bold orange colorway ensures you’ll never lose it. A small LED screen on the outside shows your essential info, including data used, connection strength, battery life, and the number of devices connected. It's everything you need and nothing you don't.
We’re hard-pressed to find much to dislike about this model. Like the G4 Pro above, it's not 5G compatible, but many countries around the world still aren't either, so that's to be expected. Some buyers report that adding data (i.e., "topping up") their data plan can be confusing and awkward. Still, given its amazing coverage, user-friendly design, all-day battery life, and affordable price, this is our hands-down pick for the best coverage portable Wi-Fi hotspot this year.
What do buyers say? "Great Wi-Fi device for on the go. We used this in Morocco and [were] able to get Wi-Fi even in the middle of the Sahara Desert," said one Amazon reviewer.
Unlike most of the portable Wi-Fi hotspots we’ve seen, the SIMO Solis Lite features a unique, orange, puck-like design that stands out. It's hard to miss, and that also makes it hard to lose (in case you’re prone to such things). It works throughout North America and more than 135 countries around the world which should keep you covered just about anywhere you’re likely to go. We like that this device can connect up 10 devices simultaneously—more than enough for even the most tech-hungry family of four. The 4700mAh battery is good for up to 16 hours of continuous use (according to SIMO).
We love SIMO's flexible data plan structure. You can opt for an all-day pass, for example, starting at just $9 per day. Long-term travelers can score unlimited global data for just $99 per month, which is a solid value. The best part is that there's no contract, so you can switch plans or top up your data at any time. The device costs around $140 with free delivery and is ready to roll right out of the box without a SIM card. Bandwidth is throttled after 20GB of use each month, though, which may or may not be a dealbreaker for some buyers.
What do buyers say? "As I was preparing for my trip to Spain, I narrowed it down to about 3 travel Wi-Fi devices. I almost didn't pick Solis but OMG I’m so glad I did! It was so easy and convenient my entire trip to have internet access," said one Amazon reviewer.
Many hotspot models—even the best portable Wi-Fi hotspots—are "locked" or tied to a specific mobile carrier (more on that below) like AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon. If you want the freedom of being able to hop between networks, especially without a contract, an unlocked option is the way to go. Netgear's Nighthawk M6 5G hotspot/router is an unlocked, next-gen Wi-Fi hotspot with the latest tech baked in. That includes 5G-compatible mobile service with lightning-fast download speeds of up to 2.5Gbps—plenty fast for streaming Netflix, YouTube, and more. It's also capable of connecting up to 32 devices simultaneously, more than any other hotspot in our roundup. Plus, you can easily check your data usage and update the device's options with the bright, 2.4" color LCD touchscreen.
For travelers who mostly explore the U.S., this hotspot is almost perfect. But you’ll pay handsomely for all that premium hardware. At roughly $700, it's the most expensive in this year's roundup. Because you’ll likely be using AT&T or T-Mobile service, data is typically more expensive on a per-GB rate, as well. Lastly, although this technically works for international use, it's built more for domestic travel within the United States.
What do buyers say? "It has a sleek, compact design that makes it easy to take on the go, and it provides fast, stable internet connectivity for all of your devices," said one Amazon reviewer.
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When it comes to finding a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that works with Verizon, your options are limited. It's arguably the most finicky domestic carrier. The Orbic Speed 5G UW is one of the few models we’ve found that works well with Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband service here in the U.S. Under the hood, it features the latest Wi-Fi 6 spec technology, so it's blazing fast for all your devices (up to 30 at a time, in fact). We love the dead-simple, no-nonsense design—a jet-black box with a clear, easy-to-read screen with all your device's features, stats, and mobile plan essentials available at a quick glance. Plus, Verizon reports the 4400mAh battery is good for up 12 hours of continuous use.
At $300, the Orbic Speed 5G UW is square in the midrange of our roundup, not the cheapest nor the most expensive. For Verizon-specific mobile users, we think this strikes a good balance of user-friendliness, performance, and price. This is another model built mainly for domestic use, though, so you may want to look to unlocked hotspot options if you’re a frequent traveler outside the country.
What do buyers say? "I have been using this device to work remotely from my travel trailer when we stay in campgrounds with no Wi-Fi. It works great. I have not missed anything at work," said one Verizon.com reviewer.
If you’re shopping for portable Wi-Fi hotspots that are compatible with T-Mobile, there are a lot more options than for Verizon. INSEEGO's M2000 5G works with T-Mobile's latest 5G (and 4G) service here in the U.S., meaning it's fast enough to stream video and for multiple users to work from home (or on the go). It also boasts the latest Wi-Fi 6 spec and a built-in VPN for keeping your network locked down and secure while traveling. It's all controllable via a crisp touchscreen interface to check your data and change your network's options on the fly.
At just $120 for an all-in package—including the hotspot, a battery, and a T-Mobile SIM card—this is one of the better-priced portable Wi-Fi hotspots of the year. It's doubly attractive when you consider that this model is designed to work globally, and T-Mobile offers competitively priced data plans that are typically cheaper than AT&T or Verizon. The M2000 also works with Google's Fi mobile service, making it even more useful and versatile for travelers.
What do buyers say? "This kit was perfect -- new battery-- T Mobile SIM included, and worked out of the box with no … adjustments required. Fully satisfied," said one Amazon reviewer.
ZTE proves you don't need to spend several hundred dollars to get a decent portable Wi-Fi hotspot. The Max Connect is a solid option for budget-conscious buyers. Because it's unlocked, it's compatible with T-Mobile, Boost, Sprint, Metro by T-Mobile, and a long list of other carriers in the U.S. and abroad. The 4G LTE service isn't nearly as fast as the latest 5G hotspots, but this model is significantly cheaper and is compatible with more international carriers. It's still fast enough for speeds up to 150Mbps, with the ability to connect up to 10 users simultaneously.
At just under $50, it's hard to complain about much with the ZTE Max Connect. It's ultra-portable, works reasonably well with last-gen mobile technology, and is extremely simple to use. The main thing the unit lacks compared to others on this list is a display screen. You’ll sacrifice that convenience for a series of basic indicator lights on the outside to indicate connectivity, battery life, etc. But, seriously, did we mention it's less than $50?
What do buyers say? "Great GSM device. I like this little device. It does exactly what I wanted it to do," said one Amazon reviewer.
Shopping for a portable Wi-Fi hotspot can be as challenging as shopping for a new smartphone. There's a lot of technology under the hood. To find the right one for you, you’ll want to consider what you’re using it for and, just as importantly, where you’ll be using it (in the United States, abroad, or both). Here's what to look for:
Some mobile hotspots are only compatible with certain carriers (e.g., Verizon, AT&T, etc.). If you’re planning to add a new hotspot to your existing smartphone plan, be sure that it’ll play nice with your current carrier. If you’re not married to one carrier and are looking for the most flexibility, we recommend going with an unlocked hotspot, as these typically work with AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and many popular international carriers.
Get the Right Plan
Mobile data plans can be confusing, but it's important to understand what you’re getting and where your data is available to use. It might not be obvious without combing through your contract, but many domestic carriers offer U.S.-only data as part of their standard data plans. International data (even in Canada and Mexico) often costs significantly more. So, if you’re planning to add a hotspot to your existing plan, make sure you understand what your new data plan includes.Adding data to your existing mobile plan is often fine for shorter trips or if you don't travel that often. But, if you are a frequent traveler or will be outside of the country for weeks or months at a time, buying an unlocked hotspot (outside of your carrier's plans) with an unlimited or high data cap is almost always your best bet
Like many high-tech products, portable hotspots can be expensive. But they don't have to be. You can find decent budget models with last-generation technology for under $100. Midrange options typically run between $200-300, and the best, most premium options cost north of $500. These are often the latest 5G-compatible models with Wi-Fi 6 and built-in VPNs.
For frequent overseas travelers, it's sometimes more affordable to buy a cheap Android phone with built-in tethering (meaning the phone can act as its own hotspot). Then buy an inexpensive data-only SIM card on your next trip. You can buy them at most international airports as soon as you land. Sometimes, this can save you hundreds, even thousands, in data overage costs per trip.
Our tech- and travel-savvy staffers researched and personally tested dozens of mobile hotspots over the last two years. We compared every feature and spec, including battery life, ease of use, reliability, internet speeds, and price. We also considered top-selling models with at least 200 positive reviews on the retailer sites we trust most. In the end, we decided on the seven models above as our picks for the best portable Wi-Fi hotspots worth buying in 2023.
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South Africa, and survived a near-miss great white shark attack in Mexico. His travel advice has appeared on the websites for Forbes, Travel + Leisure, CNET, and National Geographic. He loves the great outdoors and good bourbon, and (usually) calls Tulsa, Oklahoma home. Mike also enjoys speaking in the third person.
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