Several mobile hotspot devices have made their way to PhoneDog for review, but the Verizon Fivespot is the first that is ready for global use. Made by ZTE, the Fivespot comes equipped with both a CDMA and a GSM radio for use in over 200 different countries.
Offered for free of charge with a two-year agreement or $269.99 at full retail, it is definitely an affordable broadband solution. Unfortunately, the data prices don't follow suit. They're actually rather expensive. If you aren't looking for 4G access or you travel a lot and can afford the international data, the Fivespot is a great mobile broadband solution.
Design & Features
At only 3.92-inches tall, 2.11-inches wide, and 0.55-inches thick, the Fivespot is very compact. The glossy, black face of the device has four LED indicators laid out in a circular pattern. The top indicator is for coverage, it doesn't show signal strength but will light up green if you are connected to the wireless network. The next indicator to the right is the hotspot LED, below is the 3G indicator, and the far right LED is for battery life.
Along the edge of the device is a metallic red stripe that holds the power button on the right side and the miniUSB port on the bottom for charging or tethering to a computer. The backside of the Fivespot is a rubberized battery door, meant to keep the device from easily sliding off the tabletop while you work. At the top, a sticker with your connection information (the hotspot SSID and password) can be found. Underneath the battery door you will find the 1500mAh battery and a SIM card slot that should have a Verizon/Vodafone SIM card preinstalled. Since the Fivespot is global ready, three extra, international USB wall adapters come in the box. Also included are the typical user manuals, quick start guides, and a miniUSB cable.
Overall, the build and the device is great. In comparison to the other wireless hotspots I've used and had hands-on time with, the Fivespot is definitely one of the most compact and lightweight. However, only weighing 2.82 oz, the device certainly feels a little on the cheap side.
Usability & Performance
To turn the device on, hold the power button for three seconds. After releasing, the LEDs will begin to light up. Powering the device off can be a little frustrating as it takes several seconds of holding the power button for it to turn off. I found myself constantly releasing too soon. Alas, this is just a precautionary measure to keep you from accidentally turning the device off.
Connecting to the Fivespot is a breeze. The SSID (hotspot name, along the lines of “Verizon AC30 XXXX”) and the password can be found on the sticker on the back of the device. From your computer, go to your network settings and select the SSID of the Fivespot. A pop-up will appear, enter the password.
To access the router settings of the Fivespot, enter http://192.168.0.1 into your browser address bar of a connected device. This will bring you to the web user interface. Both the default username and password are “admin.” Just like the web interface of a router in your home, you can adjust security settings, set up a firewall, and more from this page. I found this to be a very useful tool for monitoring signal levels, charge level, and making necessary adjustments to wireless settings.
Using the wireless hotspot feature of the Fivespot, you can – as the name implies – connect up to five Wi-Fi capable devices at a time. That said, remember that your data is not unlimited. The more devices you have connected at once, the faster you will eat through your precious, limited data. You can also tether the device thought the miniUSB port. To do so, power the device off, plug it into your computer and power it back on. Keep in mind that you cannot use the hotspot feature if you are in USB modem mode.
I've been using the Fivespot for several hours in a few different locations. Verizon's coverage around my area and in my apartment is typically pretty strong. In my apartment though, the Fivespot had a little trouble maintaining a strong signal. Sitting next to my Verizon iPhone that has three to four bars of 3G, the Fivespot was getting between one and two bars. Regardless of what the signal meter in the web interface was showing, I experienced decent 3G speeds, maxing out at 2.32 Mbps down and 0.66 Mbps on the upload. Considering the speeds were fairly consistent, I can't complain.
Just like any other mobile broadband device on Verizon, the data prices are as follows: $50 per month will get you 5GB of data or $80 per month for 10GB. You will be charged $10 for every gigabyte you use beyond allowance with either of these plans. These prices are comparable to other carriers' broadband prices.
However, that is only half of the story. The Fivespot is a global ready device, so you have the ability to use it in over 200 countries. The international roaming charges are outrageously high. International data charges range up to $0.02/KB; that equates to $20.48/MB. For Canada, Mexico, and Europe there are monthly plans, more information is available here.
While using the Fivespot, I did hit a little speed bump. In the middle of browsing the web, all connections abruptly died. I couldn't reconnect using Windows or Ubuntu in USB mode or the hotspot. Pressing the power button 10 times in 15 seconds reset it to factory defaults and all has been perfect since. It was a little odd and seemingly unwarranted, but it was nothing a quick factory reset couldn't fix.
The battery life of the Fivespot is decent, but nothing to get excited over. The LED display on the front doesn't give you real-time stats on the battery (the indicator just turns red when the battery is low), so it's hard to judge remaining battery life. The web interface though, gives a visual representation on the battery information. With a 1500mAh battery, the device will last roughly 5 hours of use and the standby time is up to 8 hours. Since I used the device off and on, the device has lasted me the majority of the day. For those that are going to use this device intensively, this isn't exactly great. I would recommend bringing the wall adapter or plugging the device into your computer to charge it while using it.
I used the Fivespot for several hours while working. Although I experienced one little hiccup, it was very reliable for the majority of the time I was using it. For the price and ability to use it as a USB modem or a hotspot, the Fivespot is a pretty good deal. It's versatile and consistent.
That said, it is only a 3G device. Verizon has since launched their LTE network and a few devices that can take full advantage of the much faster speeds. If you travel – or plan on traveling – a lot this device seems to be ideal as it is global ready. But those international rates certainly take away from its appeal. I don't do a lot of traveling and I'm not exactly sure what to expect of international data pricing, but I would definitely shop around before paying $20.48 for one megabyte.
What's Good: Global ready; small and easily pocketable; the device itself is very affordable; easy to set up and very consistent in use; can be used as a hotspot or USB modem.
What's Bad: Limited data plan options; extremely high international data rates; mediocre battery life; no LTE support.
The Verdict: The Fivespot is a nice little device, and it's especially great for getting work done in a pinch. Not having access to the Verizon's newer and faster 4G network is a bit of a pitfall though. On the other hand, being global ready makes the device ideal for the constant traveler, that is, if they can afford the insanely high international data prices.