TP-Link MiFi

The Best Unlocked MiFi Devices for Travelers in 2017

In Accessories, Get Connected by Patricia Rey Mallén12 Comments

Public Wi-Fi isn’t our favorite way to stay connected on the road. Weak signal, slow speeds and dire hotel networks that work intermittently or not at all, getting online while traveling can be quite an ordeal.

For most of us, being Internet-deprived on the road is little more than an annoyance, but for others (such as business travelers or online entrepreneurs), not being able to log in is a real problem.

If you belong to the second group, you may consider not relying on public Wi-Fi any longer. Instead, especially if you’ve got multiple devices or a locked smartphone, bring a connection wherever you go with MiFi.

MiFi, or mobile Wi-Fi, typically comes in the form of a small gadget that uses a SIM card (local or international) to connect to local cell networks. It shares that data connection over a private Wi-fi network, letting you connect several devices to the Internet at the same time.

Many companies rent or sell cheap MiFi devices, typically at a relatively high daily cost for international use. Just like smartphones, though, you can buy MiFi devices unlocked.

These let you pop in a local SIM card wherever you are, and take advantage of much cheaper data rates. Here are our top choices for 2017, complete with their best and worst features.

Note: We recommend carefully checking the regions supported by any MiFi device you plan to purchase. Not every device supports the cellular frequencies used in every region or country, which means you may get slower speeds, or no data at all, in some parts of the world.

Best If You Want to Keep Things Simple: Novatel Wireless MiFi Liberate

Novatel MiFi
Novatel‘s Liberate honors its name by being  extremely easy to set up and manage, liberating you from the hassle of complicated gadgets. This makes it the best option for inexperienced MiFi users, or those who crave simplicity.


The Specs

  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Supports 4G, 3G and 2G networks
  • Up to 150Mbps download speed, with its Wifi network reaching up to 30 feet
  • Supports up to 10 devices
  • Supports Windows (XP Service 3 Pack or higher), Mac OS X (10.6 or higher)

The Good

  • Setup is simple. Just turn it on, and let it create the Wifi network with a default password that you can change later
  • There’s an intuitive, touchscreen interface. You can operate it like you would a smartphone, with all information right there on the screen
  • MicroSD slot, with 2GB card included

The Bad 

  • It’s usually sold through a provider, such as AT&T in the US, but is available unlocked on eBay
  • While compact, it’s not small enough to keep in your pocket
  • It uses an uncommon battery type, a 2,900mAh pack that looks like AA batteries but isn’t. This makes it hard to find replacements if you run out of power and can’t recharge right on the spot.

Best for Frequent Travelers: GlocalMe U2

GlocalMe MiFi

Started as an Indiegogo project, GlocalMe U2 is an interesting option, letting you roam inexpensively with the inbuilt SIM, or use a local one, whichever you prefer.


The Specs

  • 12 hours of battery life
  • Runs on 4G, 3G and 2G supported
  • Up to 150Mbps download and 50Mbps upload
  • Supports up to 5 devices
  • Controlled exclusively via app, available for Android and iOS
  • Works with both “cloud” and local SIMs, meaning you can purchase data plans directly from the manufacturer or drop in your own SIM card

The Good

  • Good coverage. It works in over 100 countries, connecting to local mobile networks
  • Seamless transition from one country to the next. You can get connected as soon as you arrive via the inbuilt SIM
  • If you’d like to use a local SIM card, you can. The device supports full-size and micro SIM cards from local networks in the countries where it offers coverage
  • Compact design, no larger than a smartphone – easy to carry and store

The Bad

  • Tricky to get hold of. Available through Indiegogo for most countries. Most of the global Amazon stores are out of stock, although it’s available on the US store (but doesn’t ship internationally).
  • Data plans for its cloud SIM are generally more expensive than local SIM cards, and differ in price from country to country
  • Its “unlimited” cloud SIM plans aren’t really – they’re capped at 2GB, after which the download speed drops to a meagre 128Kbps
  • You’ll need an adapter like this if you want to use nano SIM cards
  • Connects fewer devices than other MiFi services. That’s fine if you’re traveling by yourself, less so if you’re traveling in a group

Best for Fast Downloads: Huawei E5786

Huawei MiFi

Huawei’s E5786 biggest promise is its power: working on 4G/LTE, it promises double the speed when downloading , with a sleek and light design.


The Specs

  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Runs on 4G, supports 3G and 2G
  • Up to 300Mbps download and 50Mbps upload
  • Supports up to 10 devices
  • Supports Windows (XP and higher); Mac OS X (10.4 and higher)

The Good

  • Unbeatable speed when downloading, with a max of 300Mbps vs 150Mbps (or less) on most other devices
  • Double the bands. Unlike most other devices, E5786 offers both 2.4GHz and 5GHz options for its Wi-fi network, and dual-band LTE
  • Battery life remains strong despite increased power: 10 hours, plus 500 in standby
  • You can charge your phone or other USB devices from it in a pinch
  • Super easy to travel with – at 0.6 inches and 5 ounces, it’s one of the smallest MiFis on the market

The Bad

  • It’s not cheap. At over $200, this device isn’t something you’ll pick up on a whim

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Best on a Budget: TP-Link M7350

TP-Link MiFi

If you’re looking for an unlocked MiFi device that won’t break the bank, we recommend the TP-Link M7350.


The Specs

  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Runs on 4G/LTE, 3G or 2G
  • Up to 150Mbps download and 50Mbps upload
  • Supports up to 10 devices
  • Supports Windows (XP and higher), Mac OS X (10.4 and higher)

The Good

  • The price: it sells for between US$70 and US$150, depending on the retailer
  • Lightweight and compact, and can be transported in your pocket
  • Can be controlled through its tpMiFi app, available for Android and iOS

The Bad

  • It comes with a microSD card slot, but unlike some other devices, doesn’t include a card
  • Not as generous in terms of features as other devices (though all the basics are covered)

Best for the Weekender: ZTE MF65 Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot

ZTE Mifi

For those quick trips where you want to unwind, but not completely disconnect, for a couple of days, ZTE MF65 offers you a no-frills, inexpensive MiFi device. It’s basic and quite slow, so don’t expect to be sharing the connection with a bunch of gadgets. Then again, wouldn’t that be a good thing for a weekend away?


The Specs

  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Runs on 3G and 2G
  • Up to 21Mbps download, 5Mbps upload
  • Supports up to 10 users
  • Supports Windows (XP and higher), Mac OS X (10.4 and higher)

The Good

  • Perfect for quick getaways with basic Internet needs. You probably won’t be able to stream the latest Game of Thrones,  but do you really need to on vacation?
  • Small and light, excellent for carry-on or the glove compartment
  • The price: it can be found on Amazon for less than US$40.

The Bad

  • It’s slow, with no support for 4G/LTE. Don’t expect great speeds.
  • It comes with a microSD card slot, but unlike some other devices, doesn’t include a card
  • Doesn’t support nano SIM cards

All images via manufacturers. Main image via TP-Link

About the Author

Patricia Rey Mallén

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A roaming writer and tech enthusiast, Patricia has been wandering the globe for 10-odd years. A passionate Apple lover, she is familiar with Genius bars from Sydney to Reykjavík to Mexico City. She only vaguely remembers life before the Internet, but will forever long for the days in which mobile phone batteries lasted for over a week.

Comments

  1. I don’t quite understand the purpose of a mifi. Assuming you are travelling you would want an unlocked phone, so why not just use your phone and setup a wireless hotspot?
    First and foremost I’d rather have an unlocked phone first than a mifi. However I do have a mifi as a secondary device with built in Sim for those times when I arrive in country and dont want to mess about looking for the best phone/data sim package.

    1. If you’ve already got a MiFi, I guess you already understand the purpose of it? In most cases, if you’ve already got an unlocked phone, and only need to share an Internet connection with other devices occasionally, you’d just set up a hotspot on your phone. For those who have a locked phone, or who don’t want to drain their phone batteries by leaving the hotspot running for long periods, an unlocked MiFi can be more appropriate.

    2. I agree. And if you were going to buy one for the reasons mentioned in Mr. Dean’s reply, why not just buy a cheap android phone in the country you’re in. You can use it is a hotspot, and as an unlocked phone, on about the same budget.

      That being said, most countries cell providers sell their own branded Mifi’s for less than 20 bucks and are guaranteed to work on their systems.

      1. Buying a branded MiFi locally is also an option, but mainly for infrequent travelers, or those who keep returning to one country, because it’s locked to that provider. This article is geared towards those who want the flexibility of using one device and local SIM cards in many countries.

        A cheap Android phone works too, for those who want to go down that path.

        Personally, I just buy a good unlocked phone and use it with local SIMs, hotspotting as necessary. Given how many companies continue to rent and sell MiFi devices, there’s definitely a market for them among a segment of the traveling population.

  2. Gave to agree with stuart, I can’t find a need for these things, seems simpler to just switch to a t mobile phone plan. I’ve been traveling the world for years and years with a t mobile phone with free international data plan, just works for free in country after country, seemless, when you step off the plane you have service

    1. Totally agree, but not everyone is from the US, or wants to switch to T-Mobile even if they are. Cheap or free international roaming is still a rarity in most of the world, sadly.

    2. Just a note to be careful… Someone I know did the exact same thing as you — traveled for years on a T-Mobile plan. A month or so ago, they let him know they were canceling the plan. Apparently there’s something in the fine print of your contract that says it’s free as long as it doesn’t go into excessive use (or something like that). I’m not sure what the threshold is for excessive use, but people who are planning to be location independent for long periods of time (or indefinitely) might not want to depend on a T-Mobile plan if there’s the possibility of it being canceled on them.

      1. Yep, it’s happened to a few people who travel extensively overseas with a T-Mobile plan. Definitely worth being aware of!

  3. Thanks for the heads up, never heard of any average user having any plan revoked. Quite the opposite really, had a $1200 data charge last nov 2016 due to a 24 day Mediterranean Cruise i was on, one glitch with the International free roaming is cruise ships networks if your phone switches to them are not covered for free. T mobile refunded the charges without batting an eye.

    Where t mobile goes the rest slowly follow…. unfortunately reluctantly….check your other usa carriers they all have plans of some sort for international use, not any where like t mobile but at least starting to. I know for sure at&t does

  4. Keep the gadgets coming, always enjoy getting your updates!

    I’m waiting for them to put a small solar panel into a cell phone to trickle charge and extend your battery time, or how about a trickle charging rolex, movement charging device like in my submariner? Lol

  5. Love all the new gadgets Dave and the site redesign is cool. My question is this: If I buy a local sim and add a cheap data plan (currently in Thailand for 199 THB or about 5 USD/ month extra and link it to my MB Pro, how is getting a MIFI going to serve me better?

    1. Thanks Philip! Assuming you mean you’ll be using the SIM in your phone and tethering it, there’s little benefit to a MiFi for your situation. It’s most useful for people with locked phones who can’t use local SIMs in them, or those who want to share a connection between multiple devices without draining the battery on their phones

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