The Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot is the first cellular mobile router on the market that supports all three of Sprint's data networks: 4G LTE, 4G WiMax, and 3G; among these, 4G WiMAX is (for now) unique to Sprint. That doesn't mean you're guaranteed to have superfast Internet connection everywhere, however, since that depends on the carrier's coverage are. And in my real-world testing, Sprint's 4G coverage wasn't as ubiquitous as I would like.
The Tri-Fi Hotspot, though quite small, is rather bulky compared with its peers. To make up for that it offers stellar battery life and a very well-designed LCD screen that shows loads of information at a quick glance. Costing around $100 (after rebates and with a two-year contract), the router isn't too expensive, either. (It is expensive, however, at $350 if you want to buy it without a contract.) What might cause you to think twice, however, is the hefty and limited data plans that Sprint has for it, starting at $35 for just 3GB of data allowance.
If you live or travel frequently within Sprint's current 4G coverage, the Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot makes an excellent companion; if not, it's a very good mobile hot spot that offers you consistent 3G connection and the ability to work with 4G LTE and WiMAX when available. If you don't care about WiMAX, also consider the Jetpack 4620L from Verizon.
Design and features
Sprint's Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot is actually a lot less sexy than it looks. Head-on, it's a sleek device, resembling a small touch-screen smartphone. Looking closer, however, especially from other angles, it's as crude as a brick coming from a defected mold. And even from the front, when the LCD screen -- which is relatively large for a device of its size -- is turned on, you'll realize that it shows blurry text, making you feel like you need a better pair of glasses. That said, while it is indeed larger than most of its peers, it's still a tiny device, measuring just 3.84 by 2.25 by 0.95 inches, and it weighs less than 5 ounces. And I also loved what the LCD has to offer: lots of useful information available at a glance. Never mind the somewhat blurry text; it's not the type of screen that you want to look at for a long time anyway.
The reason the device is larger than others, especially in terms of thickness, is because it comes with a 3,600mAh lithium ion battery, about double the size as well as capacity of most other mobile routers'. In my testing, I was able to get almost 10 hours out of one charge with continuous usage. (Yes it was a challenge to figure this out since this is more than a day's worth of work.) If you use the device sporadically, which most of us generally do, you can expect even longer use time.
The router comes with two ports for external antennas and a standard Micro-USB port for changing and connection to a computer. When connected to a PC, in my trials, it also worked as a USB cellular modem. In this case, the first time you plug it in, you'll need to install its driver software, which is contained within the router itself, meaning there's no extra CD or download that you have to worry about. To use it as a mobile router, however, there's literally nothing to set up. All you have to do is turn it on, use the information provided on its screen, and you're all set. The router can support up to eight Wi-Fi clients at a time.
The router goes into sleep mode after being idle for about 30 minutes, and it takes about 30 seconds to wake up -- about as long as it takes to power up -- when you press its power button on top. To turn it on or off, you'll need to press and hold this button for a few seconds. By default, the screen shows a battery life gauge, numbers of connected Wi-Fi clients, the type of connected cellular network (3G, 4G, or WiMAX), signal bars, and the name of the Wi-Fi network as well as the password (encryption key). Other than that there are other six pages of information you can scroll through via pressing a button right next to the power button. These pages show more information for the router, such as data usage, network status, connection information, and so on. This type of LCD design is incredibly helpful since you don't need to dig into its Web interface to have the same level of access.
And the Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot does have an excellent Web interface of its own. You can get there by pointing a connected device's browser to its default IP address at 192.168.01 (the default log-in password is password). Here you can change its default settings, including the Wi-Fi network's name and password, and find even more features of the little router, such as a GPS function that helps locate where you are and services around you.
The router comes with a microSD card slot, located underneath its battery cover, to host storage to share between connected clients on the go. This is a nifty features for those who need to share documents and files between a group of travelers.