USB Modem Review: T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot Review
Reviewed by Tong Zhang
Editor's Ratings (1-5): 4.5
What's Hot: Fast speeds for HSPA+, gets strong signal, long battery life.
What's Not: Be aware, if you go over the data limit, the speeds are reduced as well.
T-Mobile has been working hard at enhancing their HSPA+ networks to the max speed. The T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot supports T-Mobile HSPA+ 42Mbps which is certainly quite fast and should be able to handle most of your tasks on the go and keep you connected. The Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot is super easy to use and can support up to 5 devices with Wi-Fi including smartphones, notebooks, tablets and ereaders.
Made by Huawei, the T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot is very portable and light. The device measures 4.02 x 2.2 x 0.61 inches and weighs 3.88 ounces. The front of the device has a shiny finish with a small OLED display that shows 4G connection status, how many devices connected to the HotSpot via Wi-Fi, battery life, messages and more. The back of the device has a soft touch matte finish, making it easy to take the back cover off to access the unit's battery, SIM card and microSD card slots. The unit's ID and password numbers are also behind the back cover.
The T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot has only two control buttons, both live on the side, the power on/off button and WPS initiation button.
The T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot works on T-Mobile's 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM network and 1700/2100MHz UMTS as well as 850 UMTS bands. This means for GSM connection, the Mobile HotSpot works anywhere in the world where GSM networks are available. For 3G and HSPA+, it works on T-Mobile's 4G HSPA+ bands and can roam on 850MHz band when T-Mobile's network isn't available. The OLED screen will indicate when you are in a roaming area.
Unlike USB data sticks, you don't need to do anything other than turning the power on in order for the Mobile HotSpot to connect. The activated Sonic 4G finds T-Mobile connection quite fast, and the OLED tells you when it's ready for Wi-Fi connections. Use your notebook, smartphone or tablet's Wi-Fi to search and connect with the Mobile HotSpot. Each Sonic 4G unit has a unique ID and password, hidden under the battery door. You only need to enter them the first time you connect your device to the mobile hotspot. For added security, the Sonic 4G offers WPS key encryption. Press the hardware button on the side to initiate the process.
The T-Mobile Sonic 4G also offers USB connection, and comes with a USB cable and will automatically install the necessary software to work with your laptop. The Sonic 4G is compatible with Windows and Mac laptops. Wi-Fi connection between the Mobile HotSpot and connected devices is solid as long as you don't put too much distance between them (within 5-10 feet). Data speeds seem faster when the HotSpot is closer to your devices as well.
Without LTE network, T-Mobile is making the most out of their current HSPA+ network, and the speeds you get from the Sonic 4G invade into LTE territory. In good coverage areas we get anywhere from 8Mbps to 16Mbps download and 1Mbps to 2Mbps upload. Ping time is extremely fast. Here are a few results we tested using Speedtest.net while using the Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot with a MacBook Pro in indoor and outdoor environments with good signal strength:
These are really good download speeds and passable upload speeds. We streamed Netflix and Hulu videos smoothly on the MacBook Pro using the Sonic 4G connection. Web pages, YouTube videos and email all ran very smoothly. There are more users on T-Mobile's network using HSPA+ devices which is the main reason why the speeds on the Sonic 4G are a bit slower than the T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick we reviewed back in the mid-year of 2011.
Comparing to the Rocket 3.0 4G USB Stick, the Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot has a few more features under the hood. The built-in microSD card slot supports up to 32GB cards and gives you the ability to copy files over Wi-Fi. You can view the files in the web-based T-Mobile Hotspot Admin tool which also tracks the status of your mobile hotspot, send text messages to phones, manages password and more.
The T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot has very good battery life with 2200mAh built-in rechargeable Lithium Ion battery. With moderate use, the battery can last you at least a week and standby time is up to 3 months. The unit is conservative of the battery. If there is no activity for a few minutes, it goes to sleep. While it's great to save your battery power, you do need to wait for it to wake up when you need to use it again.
T-Mobile offers three tiers of data plans for the Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot, and remember if you go over the plan limit you will see reduced speeds. There is no annual contract with the data packages, they are all month-to-month basis. You pay $39.99 per month for 2GB of data, $49.99 for 5GB and $79.99 for 10GB of data.
In the Box
The T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot comes with a rechargeable battery, an AC adapter, USB cable, a carrying pouch and printed starter guide.
If you are on T-Mobile and need to connect your notebook, ebook reader, and handheld gaming device on the go, the Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot is a perfect companion. It's portable and light to carry in your gear bag, and connects up to 5 devices to T-Mobile HSPA+ 42Mbps network. The speeds are very good for HSPA+ network, and even competitive with some LTE speeds. The mobile hotspot is super easy to use, you don't even need to install anything on your computer. The unit has long battery life and good security with WPS key option.
Price: $174.99 (T-Mobile is running sales on this product for $99.99) Web site: T-Mobile