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Public Wi-Fi isn’t great for staying connected on the road. Weak signal, slow speeds, and dire hotel networks often make getting online an ordeal, and that’s before you even consider the lack of security.
If you need reliable, consistent Internet while traveling — especially if you’ve got a locked smartphone or are traveling as a couple or group — take your connection wherever you go with a mobile hotspot instead.
What Is Mi-Fi, Anyway?
Mobile hotspots are known by a range of other names, including portable Wi-Fi routers, pocket Wi-Fi, mobile Wi-Fi devices, portable hotspots, Mi-Fis, and more. Whatever you call them, though, they all work in much the same way.
Typically a small gadget around the size of a deck of cards, the device shares cellular data over its own private wireless network. You get online by connecting all your other devices to that private Wi-Fi network.
Many companies rent or sell portable hotspot devices like these for international travel, but they typically come with a high daily cost. Just like smartphones, though, you can also buy unlocked versions that let you pop in a local SIM card to take advantage of cheap data rates anywhere in the world.
These are the best mobile hotspots unlocked for travel in 2019.
Note: We recommend carefully checking the regions supported by any mobile hotspot you plan to purchase. Not every device supports the different cellular frequencies used in each region or country, which means you may get slower speeds, or no data at all, in some parts of the world.
Best on a Budget: Huawei E5330Bs
Noticeably cheaper than most other unlocked mobile hotspots, the Huawei E5330Bs is a good, no-frills travel Mi-fi device, albeit with a few limitations.
Small and light, the device fits easily into a pocket. It’s also very easy to use, with little setup required. In most cases, you’ll simply be able to drop in a SIM card, turn it on, and be connected straight away.
Speeds, however, aren’t great. If you’re after a 4G Mi-fi device, you’ll need to go for one of the other options below. The E5330Bs only supports 2G and 3G networks, and with top speeds of 21Mbps down/5Mbps up. you won’t want to connect more than one or two phones to it at once.
The Huawei E5330Bs doesn’t work in most parts of the Americas, including the United States. If that’s where you’re going, consider the E5577 model instead. Discussed below, it’s a more expensive option, but still typically costs under $100.
Finally, while the battery life isn’t terrible for a low-cost device, it won’t be enough to get you through an entire day of regular use. If that’s what you plan to do, you’ll need a small portable battery pack to charge it up on the move.
Best for Flexibility: GlocalMe G3
The GlocalMe G3 is one of the best mobile hotspots we’ve come across, with a killer feature. The device lets you roam using either the inbuilt data plans for convenience or a local SIM to slash costs, whichever you prefer.
We’ve published a full review of the G3 in the past. Despite a couple of minor niggles, we found the device to be the best mobile Wi-fi hotspot for international travel overall, especially if you’re regularly on the road.
The G3 uses 4G/LTE networks by default, dropping back to 3G or 2G when necessary. You’ll get good speeds as a result, up to 150Mbps download and 50Mbps upload over LTE. With the maximum five devices connected at once, web browsing, maps, and even streaming video should still work well.
The device ships with 1GB of global data included, which you can use via the internal “cloud SIM” in any of 100+ supported countries. Once it’s finished, you can buy local or regional packages as needed, often at a surprisingly reasonable rate. “Unlimited” data plans are capped at 2GB, however, after which speeds drop significantly.
You can put local prepaid SIM cards in either or both of the unlocked nano slots, and switch between them and the cloud SIM at any time. The device has a simple touchscreen interface, and it doesn’t take long to get used to how it works. There’s a companion app, but it drains the battery and is best left uninstalled.
Battery life is good, at up to 15 hours of continuous use. You can even use the G3 to charge up your other devices via the USB port, which is a nice touch. The G3 is somewhat bulky as a result, however, and while it fits in a pocket, you may not want to walk around all day with it in there.
Best for All-Round Value: Huawei E5577
The “big brother” of the budget-focused E5330 (above), Huawei’s E5577 removes most of the limitations of the cheaper model while still staying affordable. For your extra cash, you’ll get 4G/LTE support in most of the world, and at least 3G in the Americas. This makes it a much better international pocket Wi-fi choice for global travelers.
The faster top speeds let you connect several phones or tablets to the E5577 without major slowdowns, at least in areas with 4G/LTE service. The interface isn’t as slick as the touchscreen-based version on more expensive models, but other than when installing a new SIM card, you’ll barely need to use it.
The hotspot is slim and lightweight enough to drop in your pocket, but that lack of bulk comes at a price: lack of space for a big battery. Expect no more than six hours of continuous use out of it, and potentially less if you have several devices connected or are in a low-signal area.
Overall, the E5577 makes a lot of sense for travelers who want a simple, easy-to-use Mi-fi device that works in most of the world and doesn’t cost a fortune. We’d like the battery life to be better, but that’s the only real conern, and is easy enough to get around with a portable charger if needed.
Best for Fast Downloads: Huawei E5787
The best feature of Huawei’s E5787 is its speed. LTE Cat6 support provides download speeds of up to 300Mbps, making this one of the fastest mobile hotspots you can buy. You can also connect up to 10 devices at once, so everyone can take advantage of the extra bandwidth.
The sleek design allows the E5787 to fit easily in a pocket. A slick touchscreen interface makes it easy to see important information at a glance, and change more advanced settings as needed.
You’ll get 4G/LTE coverage in many parts of the world (but not necessarily the Americas), dropping back to 2G or 3G service elsewhere. If you’re in an urban area with crowded airwaves, you’ll appreciate being able to switch the Wi-fi network between 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz for a better connection.
Despite the small dimensions and extra power requirements of that high-speed data, you’ll still get up to 10 hours of battery life. In a pinch, you can even charge your phone or other USB devices from the hotspot if you need to.
As good as the device is, however, it’s worth noting that recent price drops on the Huawei E5885 (below) often see it selling for a similar price. If you don’t mind the extra weight, the premium features and longer battery life may make it a better option.
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Best for Extra Features: Huawei E5885
Many Mi-fi devices, especially the lower-cost models, have small batteries that go flat after a few hours of consistent use. You’ll have no such problem with the Huawei E5885, which should last an entire day or more, and includes several other premium features to justify its higher price.
Like the E5787 (above), this is one of the fastest mobile hotspots you can buy. LTE Cat6 support ensures blistering downloads of up to 300Mbps in much of the world, and 3G/HSPA+ coverage elsewhere. You can also connect up to 32 devices at once, so if you feel like providing internet service for your entire tour group, it’s totally possible.
The hotspot’s extra features may mean you can leave some of your other travel gadgets at home. Rather than toting a portable charger, for instance, you can use some of the 25-hour battery life to power other devices via the USB port. Helpfully, the small hand strap doubles as micro-USB cable.
The E5885 also removes the need for a dedicated Wi-fi range extender, since it can take an existing wired or wireless connection and share it over Wi-fi. Both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz are supported, which helps improve the signal in urban areas with congested airwaves.
It’s more durable than most other portable hotspots, with a faux-leather cover that provides some protection from spills and stains. All of the ports are also covered by a rubber cover, helping keep liquid and dust out when they’re not being used.
This is a high-end device, with a price tag to match. Given the premium features, however, and the ability to leave other gadgets at home because of it, the E5885 still provides good value for money for many travelers.
Main image via rawpixel, other images via manufacturers.