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We are living in the age of the “Internet of Things.” Nearly every device—from your phones to your lamps to your toothbrush—has WiFi capabilities, and the interconnected IoT network almost requires you to be always on all the time. This reality is one of the reasons we recommend everyone pick up one of the best WiFi boosters for their home, as there’s a lot more competition for bandwidth in the age of work/school/game/stream from home than there used to be. But what if you’re on the go and the work can’t wait? What if you’re out and about and really need to be connected? Don’t worry, you don’t need to go over your data cap as you’re going over wide-ranging terrain with the best portable WiFi options.
Rather than overloading your cellular data plan or hoping that if you wander around long enough you’ll stumble onto a strong, free WiFi signal, you can actually bring your WiFi along with you. Portable WiFi—also called mobile WiFi or mobile routers—is exactly what it sounds like: small, easily transportable devices that act just like your WiFi router at home. Instead of being attached to a phone cable, however, they operate with a SIM card, which allows the phone to connect to your phone or cable provider just like a hardwired modem would at home. The best portable WiFi device will enable you to set up your own private Internet connection, practically anywhere in the world, on at least 10 devices simultaneously, including phones, laptops, tablets, and iPads, games consoles, and cameras.
You have a lot of options when it comes to a portable WiFi device, which ranges in size, functionality, and connectivity. Selecting the right one will require you to assess your specific needs, how mobile you intend to be (are you, say, literally hopping from train to station to car, or are you settling down in a cafe), and how fast you need your downloads and uploads. Here’s some information to get you started.
- Best designed: TP-Link N300 Wireless Portable Nano Travel Router
- Best battery life: RoamWiFi R10
- Most user-friendly: GlocalMe G4 Pro 4G LTE Mobile HotSpot
- Best for connection speed: NetGear Mobile WiFi Hotspot
- Best budget: KuWFi 4G LTE
The best portable WiFi: Reviews & Recommendations
Best designed: TP-Link N300 Wireless Portable Nano Travel Router
The TP-Link is compact, simple, looks great, and can fit in a pocket or the pouch of a knapsack. It can deliver 300Mbps WiFi speed on a 2.4G hertz band, which makes it great for streaming and online gaming. it’s compatible with Chromecast, and powers via a Micro USB port. We like it because it’s sleek, secure, and efficient.
Best battery life: RoamWiFi R10
The RoamWiFi R10 supports 4G LTE high-speed network, with a maximum upload speed of 50Mbps and a maximum download speed of 433Mbps. But its main selling point is that it provides a solid 18 hours of battery life after a full charge (which is about 3 hours). It’s small, as easy to carry around as a smartphone, and provides strong, secure connections.
Most user-friendly: GlocalMe G4 Pro 4G LTE Mobile HotSpot
The GlocalMe G4 allows you to connect up to 10 devices at once—but the best part is how easily it allows you to manage those connections. With its smartphone-like user interface, it makes managing device usage, tracking battery life, and connecting to available signals as easy as using an app. It has its own data plan and package rates, so those not looking to deal with SIM cards will find this an added convenience.
Best for connection speed: NetGear Mobile WiFi Hotspot
To be honest, NetGear’s 400 Mbps of download speed might even be better than what you get on your home desktop. Designed to be portable and convenient, the NetGear offers 11 hours of battery life, a color LCD display, and the ability to connect to up to 15 devices at once.
Best budget: KuWFi 4G LTE
The KuWFi comes in at just under $50, but offers 4G LTE connectivity, low power consumption, and the ability to share up to 10 devices. It has a clear, colorful LED screen showing battery life, connection strength, and other pieces of information, and is compatible with a number of SIM cards and data storage cards.
Things to consider when shopping for the best portable WiFi
When you’re on the lookout for devices designed to help you be more product and more connected—which is exactly what the best portable WiFi devices are meant to do—it’s easy to fall into the trap of something big and complex and seemingly all-powerful, only to discover that you only actually need a fraction of its capabilities for your everyday use. Knowing exactly how you work, and where your own personal trouble spots are, will help you narrow your focus and get a device that does exactly what you need it to do. With the right research (which we’ve happily done for you), you can narrow down the copious options and identify the perfect portable companion for all your on-the-go network needs.
Do you want something you won’t mind carrying around with you?
It’s not shallow to say that how a device looks goes a long way towards how willing you’ll be to carrying it around with you. A clunky, brick-like device is going to become a burden, and you’ll end up not getting as much use out of it as you should. It goes beyond aesthetics, too, as a well-designed device will be user-friendly and convenient in addition to being a cool part of your portable communications system.
Your search should consider the overall size of the device, its functionality, and how easily it will mesh with your other devices. Honing in on these key factors will ensure you get a portable WiFi router you’ll use again and again.
Can it give you enough battery life if a power source isn’t available?
It’s mankind’s biggest collective struggle in the modern age—the constant raging against the dying of the battery. From phones to laptops, tiny battery icons taunt us from their top corner perches, slowly bleeding down until their red bars inform you that you’d better wrap it up, save your data, and hurry to an outlet before all of your work is lost.
Although a lot of portable WiFi devices can be powered via USB, you may find yourself in a situation where WiFi is needed but a USB-compatible device may not be available. Here’s where to find a mobile hotspot that will cover you even if you have to rely on battery power.
Are you looking for portable WiFi you can use immediately without fuss?
The main selling point of portable WiFi is convenience. Whether you want portable WiFi for travel, or you’re looking for a strong connection when you happen to be away from your home base unit, you need something you can rely on that won’t be overly complicated or difficult to manage.
Finding a mobile WiFi router that puts user interface first and foremost will ensure you feel comfortable using it again and again, and that you get the most out of it every single time. Look for devices that have easily-readable screens, simple navigating, and convenient information accessibility.
How fast do you need your WiFi connection to be?
Perhaps the biggest reason to invest in a portable WiFi router is that you intend to download or upload files on a regular basis, and need both the speed and convenience of a strong WiFi signal to do it. A smartphone alone is fine for emails and texts, but for anything bigger or more complex, you need a fast Internet connection without question.
It used to be you’d need to be hard-wired to process anything bigger than a few megabytes, but there are options available now that can deliver fast upload and download speeds even if you are on the go.
Are you a Verizon customer looking for portable WiFi?
Depending on where in the world you live, you may have a lot of public WiFi hotspots available for your use. While they allow you to access WiFi without an Internet provider, they do come with some security risks. If you have a specific cell or internet provider, you can access private WiFi hotspots that offer premium prepaid internet access that’s much cheaper than using mobile data, and more secure.
There are some mobile WiFi devices that are geared specifically for one provider—say, for example, if you are a Verizon customer. Being able to connect to a service you already use can save a lot of hassle, and help you avoid having to use insecure, public networks that could expose your data.
Best portable WiFi device on a budget: What you can get for under $50
Portable WiFi devices aren’t, generally speaking, among the most expensive pieces of technology. Even the higher-end devices usually sit under $200, so finding the best portable WiFi option on a budget isn’t too difficult.
Q: Can portable WiFi replace my home internet?
The short answer is: Yes, it can. Doing so could save you money on internet provider packages and contracts, but keep in mind that if you live in a household that tends to go heavy on internet usage (say, a family where it’s not uncommon for a TV to be streaming in one room, someone Internet surfing on another, and people playing online games in yet another), it’ll be tough to find a mobile router up to handle it all.
Q: Do I need a new data plan for portable WiFi?
Not necessarily. Most portable WiFi devices operate with SIM cards, which allow you to get internet access even if you don’t have an internet provider at all.
Q: Does portable WiFi work without service?
Yes, the purpose of a mobile router is to be the source of connection to the Internet, without having to rely on your phone’s service connection.
A final word on shopping for the best portable WiFi
The ease and convenience of a mobile WiFi router really can’t be overstated. Having the ability to connect to the internet with home computer speeds anywhere in the world opens you up to all new possibilities—whether you need it for remote work or for frequent traveling. Knowing your own usage tendencies as well as what kind of work assets you need (are you sharing simple Word Docs or do you need to traffic in heavier images or video?) will go a long way towards narrowing down your selection. Once you find the perfect mix of portable and reliable, the world is your oyster.