Review: Netgear Zing mobile hotspot for Sprint

Netgear Zing hotspot connects 10 devices to Sprint 4G network (November 15th, 2013)

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Netgear

Price: $50 with contract

The Good

  • - Long battery life
    - International roaming support
    - Touchscreen UI

The Bad

  • - Large
    - Sprint 4G coverage limited

Netgear is better known for its home networking gear, however the company's Zing hotspot aims to make a dent in the mobile market. With support for Sprint's LTE network and a touch-based management interface, the Zing packs on a few extra features that are hard to find among the competition. In our full review, we take the hotspot and a handful of data-hungry devices out for a road trip.

The Zing, also referred to as the AirCard 771S, is a bit larger than some of the other hotspots we've seen, with slightly more volume than an iPhone 5. The extra capacity might seem cumbersome for a pocket device, though it provides room for a bigger battery, a touchscreen, a microSD slot and two antenna connectors.

We like the touch interface, which provides a quick look at the hotspot's Wi-Fi name and password, data usage, connected devices, battery level and network status. With login information available right on the home screen, users are no longer forced to memorize the password or fumble a verbal relay to their kids in the back seat eager to get their iPads connected.

With support for 10 simultaneous device connections, the Zing's 2500mAh battery is certainly beneficial. We've been frustrated with other hotspots that only last a few hours before plugging into a USB port, which can make a significant dent in a notebook's life when away from power outlets. Netgear claims up to 10 hours of continuous usage and 10 days of standby, and we were able to push beyond eight hours of browsing.

Despite its a Sprint badge, the hotspot is actually compatible with an extremely wide range of cellular bands and network technologies. This is a bonus for world travelers, and we appreciated a clear distinction on the display when connected to roaming networks-fees can quickly blow sky high if someone accidentally starts a YouTube marathon when outside of Sprint's network.

We tested download speeds around Brooklyn and Manhattan, which resulted in average download speeds around 6Mbps and average upload speeds of approximately 3Mbps. Unfortunately we did not have another Sprint LTE device for side-by-side tests of antenna performance.

Sprint is lagging in its LTE buildout, but the hotspot supports all three of the carrier's LTE bands. For users who rely on their hotspot when traveling, or anyone who is in a rural area without wireline Internet at home, the Zing can be connected to external antennas for better reception. Netgear makes an optional dock that integrates its own antennas, with a claimed 10-20dB of additional gain, though we did not receive the accessory to test potential benefits to speed or range.

The Zing is one of the best mobile hotspot that we've had a chance to try out. As a "mobile hotspot," however, it is only as good as the network to which it connects. Taking a trip from Western New York to New York City, we remained restricted to Sprint's 3G network for the first 420 miles out of the 427-mile journey. In contrast, our Verizon phone remained connected to 4G towers for nearly the entire stretch. In other parts of the country, Sprint's 4G islands are large enough to maintain continuous high-speed connections at home, around town and for short road trips.

Sprint offers the Zing for $50 with a two-year agreement, after mail-in rebate. The carrier's mobile-broadband plans start at $35/month for 3GB of data, jumping to $50 for 6GB of usage and topping out at $80 with a 12GB cap.

by Justin King


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