Internet anywhere. Super-fast Internet anywhere. That’s the dream. For some of us, anyway. And while many of our dreams are endless pits of disappointment to mine in the real world, this is one that can basically come true: 4G wireless hotspots practically pull Wi-Fi out of the ether.
So, the thing about buying somebody a phone — or anything else with a built-in cellular connection — as a present is that you often aren’t buying them a discrete device so much as you’re buying them a virtually unbreakable commitment. “Happy holidays! Here’s a gift that will cost you $70 a month for the rest of your natural life. Enjoy.” Unless that device very specifically doesn’t have a contract, allowing the recipient to simply turn on data whenever they need it and turn it off when they don’t.
Virgin Mobile’s Overdrive Pro is the cheapest contract-free 4G option, at $80 for the hotspot itself and — this is the killer part — $5-a-day broadband plans that users can easily turn off and on when needed. For $55 a month, users get 10 gigabytes of full-speed 4G data. The only downside is that the Overdrive Pro relies on WiMax, a networking technology that’s not exactly in vogue anymore — the only major carrier that was using it, Sprint, is abandoning it. So it won’t last forever. But the pricing and flexibility with Virgin Mobile here is unbeatable.
Alternatively, AT&T’s Elevate 4G is an LTE hotspot that costs $150 if purchased with a contract-free plan — and monthly data runs $50 for 5GB worth. (Apologies for the ridiculous naming conventions cell companies are using now — EL TEE EEEE, ugh — but LTE is basically just verrrry fast wireless. It’s in the new iPhone and practically all of the top-end new Android and Windows phones.) I’d lean toward AT&T over Verizon on this pick, even though Verizon covers more locations with LTE than AT&T does and its network is typically more reliable, simply because because Verizon’s hotspot is $250 off-contract. Also, AT&T’s LTE service has been very good in my experience. That said, if you know AT&T or Verizon is crappy in the recipient’s area, go with the best possible carrier, obviously.