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Verizon Novatel MiFi Jetpack 4620L Review: Editor’s Choice

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When Novatel Wireless had launched its original MiFi mobile hotspot a few years ago, it was instantly one of the best device in a mobile road warrior’s arsenal. With a compact credit card size and the ability to connect up to five WiFi-enabled devices to Verizon’s 3G CDMA/EVDO network, the original MiFi offered an easy and quick way to connect to the Internet from almost anywhere and everywhere in the U.S. Now, Novatel has released its third generation MiFi mobile hotspot with incremental changes, but will those changes be enough to keep the MiFi on the top and stand out from the pack?

Video Review

My colleague Josh did a preview of the MiFi 4620L on video and you can watch it below:

History

The MiFi 4620L is essentially a more refined version of last year’s MiFi 4510L, Novatel Wireless’ first 4G LTE MiFi mobile hotspot and the second MiFi on Verizon’s network. That model added a small E-Ink display, along with 4G LTE connectivity, that made the MiFi more usable. With a window into battery life, signal strength, and a blinking LED light that indicated whether you’re connected to a 3G or 4G connection, the 4510L’s incremental change was a huge leap forward in usability.

With the 4620L, there are even more changes while still retaining the overall footprint of the 4510L that will help to create an even better experience, including a larger OLED display, more connectivity options, and optional extended battery life for all-day connectivity.

Hardware

New to this year’s model is a larger display and scroll and select buttons that will make the MiFi 4620L even easier to use than its predecessor. Also new is a world radio that allows users to connect to CDMA/EVDO/LTE on Verizon’s domestic network as well as GSM/HSPA+ worldwide for international roaming. Unfortunately, though, the MiFi 4620L is SIM-locked, so while the world radio does support AT&T’s frequencies, it will not work with rival AT&T’s SIM card for HSPA+ connectivity in the U.S.

The top face is a glossy piano black and has the Jetpack branding and Verizon and 4G LTE branding. There are navigation keys and an OLED display. Also, the chrome border that surrounds last year’s MiFi has been replaced by a soft-touch black bezel, creating a more subtle and sleek device overall. Though these hardware features seem so simple, they actually do make a difference when you’re focusing your time on working on the Internet rather than wasting time getting to understand and diagnose your portable router and modem package.

The OLED display is even more prominent on this model and replaces last year’s simple E-Ink screen. Measuring just over 1.5-inch diagonally, the display is bright and easy to use with soft buttons on the bottom. Navigating the UI is done with the scroll buttons, which are placed towards the center of the device just under the left edge of the display as well as a select button on the right side.

Users of prior MiFi editions will notice that the power button has moved from the top of the device–now you have the navigation hardware buttons–to the top side edge of the device. The power button is easy to press when you need it, but the placement is slightly odd. To activate the OLED display, press the power button in for a second, and to power on or off the MiFi, you’ll have to depress the button for a few seconds.

Old MiFi 4510L on the bottom with power button on the top face.

As the OLED display times out and goes blank to conserve battery life when you don’t need it, you’ll need to reach to that top side edge to re-activate the OLED screen by pressing in the power button. Placement of the power button on the top of the device would be more ergonomic for use if you need access to the display.

Power button on the top side edge on the MiFi 4620L

That said, the OLED panel gives you access to information such as network connectivity (4G or 3G), the WiFi network and password to connect additional devices, battery life and gauge, the number of connected devices presently, any notifications or SMS messages, and the MiFi information and browser address to access the control panel to change settings.

On the bottom side of the device, you’ll have access to an antenna port to connect an external optional antenna to improve reception if needed, a blinking LED light that gives you a visual indicator if the device is connected to Verizon’s 3G, 4G, or a GSM network for roaming, and on the right bottom edge, you’ll have the micro USB port for charging the device.

On the back, you have a battery cover that you can remove by using a fingernail to pry open a notch on the left side edge of the MiFi. The battery cover and sides are covered in a soft touch material, making it pleasant to touch.

There’s also a sticker on the back battery cover that gives you your network SSID information, which begins with MIFI4620L, as well as a password. The same password is used to both connect devices to the WiFi network as well as to change the settings using the web interface. Once you log onto the web interface, you can change the passwords to your liking and can maintain separate passwords for your WiFi network as well as for the web interface.

Removing the back battery cover, you’ll find a small reset button, which can be activated with either a paperclip or pin, to reset settings if you don’t remember passwords that you’ve changed for the network. There’s a 1500 mAh battery and lifting up the battery, you’ll find Verizon’s micro SIM card, which is a bit hard to remove. Users will generally never need to remove the back battery cover once they’ve inserted the micro SIM card initially.

Charging and Battery Life

New to the third-generation MiFi is the ability to now charge from any USB plug. There is a micro USB port on the bottom right side of the device and you can charge the MiFi either through the wall charger or plug a USB to micro USB cable to your PC or Mac to charge. In the past, connecting the cable to a computer would disconnect the MiFi, but now, you can power the MiFi from your laptop while you connect your laptop to a wall outlet, which will be good for coffee house workers who find wall outlets scarce.

With the standard battery, the MiFi 4620L is slightly slimmer than the MiFi 4510L last year. The extended battery does add a bit of depth to the unit, but does double battery life with its 3000 mAh battery. We’ll have to wait for Verizon to announce pricing for the extended battery and the extended battery cover.

Top: MiFi 4620L with extended battery, Bottom: MiFi 4510L

The battery life on the MiFi 4620L Jetpack lasts for between 3-4 hours, depending on how many devices you have connected and what content you’re viewing on the Internet. Streaming video to multiple devices, for example, will run your battery down quicker than if you were to view static webpages, like GottaBeMobile.com.

This year, Novatel Wireless is also releasing an extended battery with an extended battery cover, which doubles the battery capacity of the standard battery. Connected to Verizon’s 4G LTE, I was able to get between 6-8 hours on a single charge. The extended battery is an optional accessory and not included in the box, and Verizon so far as not announced pricing for that accessory.

Connectivity

The MiFi will connect to Verizon’s 3G CDMA/EVDO and 4G LTE network in the U.S. With an expanding and robust national coverage footprint for 4G LTE, you’ll be able to take fast mobile broadband with you on the go. Speeds range between 5-10 Mbps on the download side and between 2-5 Mbps on the upload side. In use, I found that the third-generation MiFi 4620L’s connection stalls less than the MiFi 4510L on my Macbook Pro. On last generation’s device, I frequently had to turn off and on the MiFi completely as the connection would lag on my Mac laptop, but was fine on a PC system. There is less of that on this year’s MiFi 4620L and the device is more reliable in use.

With the MiFi 4620L, users can connect up to ten devices to Verizon’s network.

In addition to Verizon’s network, globe-trotters will be able to connect overseas while traveling, but be expected to pay Verizon roaming fees as the device is SIM-locked. That means you won’t be able to swap the micro SIM card located under the battery with a local SIM card for local coverage. That said, you’ll have the most connectivity options with GSM/HSPA+ overseas in addition to Verizon’s domestic network.

By default, the device will shut off if it’s idle for 30 minutes to conserve battery life. However, you can log into the device’s settings on your computer via the browser to change that to never time out if you wish.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an option for WPS, or WiFi Protected Setup, for easily configuring WiFi devices on this model.

Another good thing about this MiFi is that unlike last year’s model, the device runs cool and I didn’t experience any overheats. On the MiFi 4510L, that device would sometimes overheat and shut off until it cools down. I didn’t get any of that with the 4620L.

Computer Interface

To log into the control panel for the MiFi 4620L, you’ll have to open a browser on your computer and type in either http://192.168.1.1 or http://vz.hotspot. When the control panel is open, you’ll see connectivity, signal strength, and battery life in a bar at the top, and you’ll need to log in with your administrator password. The default admin password is the same as the WiFi password printed on the sticker on the rear battery cover. You can also see the password by using the OLED panel and scrolling to WiFi, and hitting the ‘More’ button to display the password.

Once logged in, you can change your password and change and access a number of settings. You can change the settings to allow the number of devices connected at a single time, setup Mac filtering and port forwarding, and see your network settings.

The only setting I’ve really changed is to set the device to never timeout when inactive.

Compared to Tethering on a Smartphone

Many consumers will ask if they really need a MiFi or mobile hotspot unit especially when many modern smartphones today offering tethering, which allows you to just manage one device and one plan. The answer will depend on your usage needs. Though the hardware cost of a MiFi is relatively inexpensive–the MiFi 4620L costs $50 with a two-year contract and $270 retail–the mobile broadband plans are expensive and start at $50. However, if you don’t want to fiddle with settings and menus on a phone to turn on tethering, the MiFi offers a simple and easy experience as it’s a dedicated device. Furthermore, tethering on a phone will drain the battery quicker and if you tether a lot without charging your phone, you’ll quickly find that your phone’s battery will die in two hours leaving you without a phone for the rest of the day.

If you’re a business user whose company will foot the bill, there’s no reason to not get the MiFi 4620L, especially if you’re on the road a lot. With hotel wireless charges starting at $10 per day, the MiFi’s $50 per month bill will likely pay for itself if you frequently travel and you’ll always have connectivity wherever you go whenever you need it.

Conclusion

Users of the already excellent 4510L will most likely not find many reasons to upgrade to the 4620L unless they need to connect 10 devices simultaneously or global GSM roaming. That said, for new mobile hotspot users, the addition of some hardware navigation buttons and an on-board OLED display with its own UI provide a more refined experience that makes using the MiFi just that much easier. The MiFi 4620L remains one of the top gear in our arsenal and with the extended battery, you can work for even longer periods and not have to worry about being tethered to a power outlet.

The only downside about the MiFi 4620L is that it’s so simple and easy to use that you just want to use it more. Coupled with Verizon’s fast mobile broadband LTE network, users will quickly realize that they’re burning through data quickly as the network and the device are both joys to use. Verizon offers two plans for the MiFi–a 5 GB per month plan for $50 or a 10 GB plan for $80. As you connect more devices and users to your MiFi, just be cautious of how much browsing, surfing, and Internet exploration you do so you don’t run into overages.

This is the best MiFi today and Novatel Wireless’ MiFi is already the best mobile hotspot on the market today. The best really just did get better with the MiFi 4620L Jetpack.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

4 Comments

  1. bousozoku

    06/11/2012 at 9:43 pm

    I recently got AT&T’s Sierra Wireless Elevate 4G mobile hotspot, although I’ve been considering Novatel’s device.

    Either one is a few steps above the smart phone-enabled hotspots I’ve used with Android and iOS. Since it’s a single use device, it’s concerned more about communications than pretty graphics. Performance should be important to anyone using such a device.

  2. ITLady

    08/13/2012 at 11:51 am

    I am not sure who is using the MiFi’s but I want to warn you. If you are using the MiFi 4620L Jetpack 4G MiFi’s there is an issue with the display showing the Network name and password on its display if you push the buttons on the device!!! I have called Verizon and they were clueless and they told me to call Novatell. I called and they are aware of this issue and have escalated a fix and it should be out by the end of the month, but I am not sure we will get the notice. Other than that, Im glad the MiFi’s are avalible, but this was one BIG BooBoo!!! Displaying the password could be a huge disaster when you use a bunch of these all configured the same for a business deployment!!!

    • Allen

      08/17/2012 at 7:06 pm

      ITLady: As with any computer/network security, all bets are off if an attacker has physical access. Even without the password, it’s trivial to simply remove the cover and reset the device to factory settings (i.e. reset the password to the factory default). While I agree that the ability to show the password should be user-configurable from the admin interface, it raises the bar only slightly, especially if the stickers with the default password are still present.

      So, if you don’t trust someone, don’t show them the device where they can see the password, and if you don’t trust them not to mess with it when you’re not around, then keep it locked up. Hiding the password does little more than provide a false sense of security. Although as I said, I’m all in favor of making that a user preference, if only because I believe people should have full control over the devices they own.

      • The Garden Master

        10/04/2012 at 6:23 pm

        Or you could not panic and just simply remove the sticker and file it. Wow, that was complicated!

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