Review: Novatel Wireless MiFi 4620L is a solid LTE hotspot

Verizon Wireless (s vz)(s vod) has spent billions upgrading its network for LTE, so it stands to reason that it will offer LTE devices in every shape and form to get subscribers. Verizon calls its line of LTE MiFis “Jetpacks” and one of the newest is the Novatel Wireless 4620L(s nvtl). I used one for a few days and found it to be a vast improvment over my old original MiFi, also built by Novatel Wireless.

It’s fast, but speeds can vary

Clearly, the biggest difference between the two is support for Verizon’s LTE network. The 4620L on LTE should offer speeds around 10x faster than my old 3G MiFi. My testing didn’t quite show that speed boost, but its difficult to get exact numbers for mobile broadband testing due to so many variables: Location, coverage, people connecting to the same cell tower, what they’re actually doing, and more.
The best speeds I saw from the Jetpack 4620L topped out around 10 Mbps, but again, I suspect network congestion may have played a part during my testing. The device managed uploads near 5 Mbps and low latency; more than good enough for a little online gaming. Up to 10 devices can connect to the hotspot over Wi-Fi. I did experience one connection drop on 4G that required the device to be restarted, but otherwise it was trouble-free. Aside from the one hiccup, I worked for hours on the MiFi connection and it was no different from working at my home office on a 25 Mbps FiOS connection.

Size is just right

The device itself is roughly twice as thick as older MiFi’s — about the size of a deck of playing cards — with the standard 1500 mAh battery. A double capacity power-pack and larger cover effectively doubles the device run time, which in my tests averaged about  3.5 hours when on a 4G LTE connection. Nearly all day with the extended battery ought to be possible, as should a full day with both batteries. The device charges quite quickly with the included micro USB power brick and can be charged from a mobile device.

No software and an OLED screen

Aside from the basic wireless hotspot functionality, Two features standout to me. First is the complete lack of any companion software to install. I remember using VZ Access Manager with older devices and there’s simply no need for this kind of application. The Novatel Wireless 4620L just powers up and works, as it should.

Second is the small display on the top of the unit. This is handy because the device has a dedicated phone number and can receive messages; you can scroll through and view them on the display. Plus you can see how many devices are connected, signal strength, and battery life without hitting an app or a web page. Novatel says the device can be used as a GPS over Wi-Fi, but I didn’t test the feature as all of my devices have GPS radios already.
Verizon sells the Jetpack for $49.99 with contract, $269.99 without. Is it a good deal? For those who don’t want to or can’t use their phone as an LTE hotspot, I’d say yes. The MiFi works well and has some great features. Because it can fall back to 3G, you can even use it as a hotspot in an area that lacks LTE coverage. For heavy users, I’d recommend the higher-capacity battery, but for occasional use, the included battery should work fine for most.