Traveling with a laptop or tablet, but without reliable WiFi access, can be frustrating—especially when you are trying to get work done on deadline. That's where portable mobile hotspots from cellular phone carriers can help, offering instant, dedicated WiFi connections with accompanying data plans.
So when Boost Mobile sent me a $49.99 Netgear Fuse Mobile Hotspot device for a review as I was about to travel to New York City via Amtrak from Pennsylvania three times recently, I was excited.
Finally, I'd be able to ditch Amtrak's spotty free on-board WiFi for a connection that would surely make working on the train a nicer experience. Well, that almost happened.
The Fuse is actually a great device that's easy to set up and provides reliable connectivity, but it has one shortcoming. For some reason, the Fuse was designed to work only with 4G LTE networks. That's great if you are in an area with great 4G LTE coverage, but when you pop into an area that only has 4G or 3G capabilities, your connection is gone.
To me, that reduces the overall appeal of the Fuse, especially since competing hotspots from other carriers, including Verizon's Jetpack MiFi 6620L, AT&T's Unite Pro and Sprint's Live Pro units, all support 3G as well.
Each time the train traveled 15 minutes from Lancaster, Pa., my Fuse WiFi connection dropped for 15 minutes and didn't return until we got closer to the Philadelphia 4G LTE network. OK, 15 minutes isn't the end of life, but it was enough to drop my email and VPN connections and make me less productive when I was all set to crank out work while commuting. And inside Lincoln Center for a news event, there was no 4G LTE available, so I couldn't connect—right in the middle of New York City. That was another fail.
In addition, the Fuse used a lot of data while I was testing it. In three day trips to New York and a visit to my daughter to help her with her resume, the Fuse consumed 1.25GB of data, all when I was writing several stories, sending and receiving emails, and searching the Web for information. It seemed like a lot of data to me in a short time.
Boost Mobile offers the no-contract Fuse to customers starting at $25 per month for a 1.5GB data plan or $50 a month for a 10GB mobile data plan. The Fuse hotspots allow users to simultaneously connect up to 10 WiFi-enabled devices at a time. The Fuse, which is small enough to fit in a pocket, is powered by a 2,500mAh rechargeable battery that provides up to 10 hours of usage on a charge.
I wanted to love the Fuse, but if I was buying my own hotspot, I'd get one that also has 3G connectivity to make it more useful. Too bad this device is a bit short on having better connectivity.