Clear iSpot 4G WiFi Hotspot review
I love the idea of having easy access to WiFi wherever I go. Even if I already have internet access on my iPhone or Android, WiFi is typically faster and eats up less battery. It just makes for a easy and seamless internet experience on my mobile phone, no matter what phone I’m using at the time. This love is even greater when 4G enters the picture, and Clear has done a tremendous job of setting up 4G in most metro areas across the US.
Enter Clear’s latest 4G puck of WiFi goodness, called the iSpot. With the “i” in the front of the name, everyone naturally assumes it has something to do with Apple. If you assumed this, you would be absolutely correct! The iSpot differs from all of its predecessors in that it’s only supposed to connect to devices running iOS: iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (note I used the word “supposed”, but I’ll get to that later).
What’s the big deal? Wouldn’t a 4G hotspot be more effective if it could connect to any device capable of using WiFi? Only if price isn’t a factor. Restricting WiFi access to only iOS devices actually enables the total cost of the service to be a lot lower than other related products. For example, the iSpot costs $99 up front for the device and $25 for Unlimited 4G data access. Compare this with other 4G hotspots from Clear that require contract and cost upwards of $40/month.
Here’s why this is so appealing to me. If I’m considering an iPad purchase, normally I would choose to get one with 3G. Using 3G off of AT&T’s network would cost $25 per month and be limited to only 2 GB monthly data usage. With the help of the iSpot, however, it makes more fiscal sense to buy the WiFi-only version for less, get the iSpot for a lower cost than an upgrade to iPad 3G would, and pay the same $25 per month but instead get unlimited access to an even faster 4G network. Now you can see why iSpot is such a big deal.
So in theory the iSpot 4G is a clear winner (forgive the pun) if you only need it to connect to iDevices. Certainly if you need 4G access for your laptop or other device, it will be important to look around for other products that take advantage of the same network. But how does the iSpot hold up in real life?
Design of the Clear iSpot 4G
Upon looking at the iSpot, I am immediately reminded of an Apple Mighty Mouse. It’s all white with the exception of some writing on the front for the Clear logo as well as some LED lights that indicate if WiFi is turned on and how good your reception is to the nearest 4G tower. These lights are in 3 different color settings as a way of more accurately describing how good the service is in your area. When I turned it on at home, the 4G light kept flashing red to indicate it was still searching for 4G because I live just a few miles outside 4G coverage. Naturally this changed when I drove closer into town, when all of a sudden the 4G indicator lit up yellow and then green (the strongest setting).
The iSpot maintains a very minimalistic design. There’s only one button on the device, located on the right side, which powers it on and off. On the bottom there is a Mini-USB charging port, which took me by surprise given that Micro-USB is the charging standard for most new devices coming to market now. This tells me that this product has been in the works for quite some time before actually hitting store shelves.
On the back we find instuctions on what the different LED lights mean, and offers the default WiFi password for your device. This made the WiFi setup on my iPhone incredibly easy. I was relieved to see this information directly on the iSpot just because I originally wasn’t sure of where to find it.
The battery can be taken out — ironic, given its target devices don’t have removable batteries — and is guarded by a standard battery cover that just blends in quite well with the rest of the device.
Performance of the iSpot
Battery life on any 4G device gets sucked up in no time, and the iSpot is no exception to that. We did happen to get the promised battery life of 4.5 hours, but barely. Clear wasn’t joking around on its battery life estimate. The crazy thing about that? It’s a 2700 mAh battery, twice the size of some of the largest smartphone batteries on the market today.
I had no problem connecting my iPhone to the iSpot, and enjoyed using it when I was out and about. After doing some speed tests, however, I couldn’t determine any consistency regarding the internet speed even though I was in a green area the entire time. The best speed test I ever saw from the iSpot’s influence is a download speed of 4.3 Mbps, but typically averaged around 2-3 Mbps. Not a lot for a 4G network, especially when compared to the forthcoming LTE networks that are supposed to consume that at a much faster rate, but still marginally better than the average 3G speeds. Upload times were laughable, though — I averaged around 500 kbps, seeing only a max upload speed of 829 kbps. I do find it somewhat unusual for there to be such a large range of differing speeds, especially given the fact that I hadn’t moved anywhere, and some of my tests were all within a few minutes of each other.
The iSpot can also connect with up to 8 different devices simultaneously. Not owning eight iOS devices, I couldn’t test it out easily enough. But I didn’t have any problem hooking it up to both mine and my wife’s iPhones at the same time, at least.
Also of note is that you can interface with the iSpot via your web browser. You can change the default passwords and settings through this website; you can even adjust power settings to preserve battery life (you can trim down the distance the iSpot can be picked up from)
Earlier I mentioned that I don’t live in a 4G coverage zone. This is a deal breaker for me, as the iSpot is not capable of falling back onto 3G speeds in the absence of 4G. If I have to travel 5 miles just to be in a 4G zone, I can’t justify paying $25 per month for that privilege, no matter how good a deal it really is. With that said, it doesn’t work for me in my unique situation but if you are consistently staying within the bounds of your local 4G network and not straying too far from the beaten path, the iSpot 4G will work great for you.
I love the idea of the iSpot and I love the price. As long as you are in a area of good 4G coverage and are constantly using iPads and iPod Touches, this is a must have accessory. For the iPhone, it’s still a great add-on but it is a lot harder to justify the extra monthly cost when you’re already paying between $15 and $30 per month to use it on 3G. It just depends on if 4G access is a must have for your iPhone or not.
(There is one side note to the iSpot restrictions: they can be hacked. It is technically possible to spoof your other wireless devices to make them appear to be iOS. Doing so does void your warranty with Clear, and there’s always a small amount of risk of malicious content being involved, so unless you know exactly what you’re doing and are willing to get on Clear’s naughty list, I’d recommend to opt instead for the Spot 4G service which works for all WiFi-accessible devices.)