Review – T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile Hot Spot
I’ve got a T-Mobile Mobile Broadband account. I got the account as an add-on to my already established T-Mobile wireless account. Initially, I established the account with a T-Mobile Jet 2.0 web stick. Initially, it worked well, but kinda required a USB extension cord in order to get a decent signal. I couldn’t help but feel as thought I were holding tin foil balls on forks as I stretched it down my cubicle wall, closer to the window.
About 8 months after I got the account, I got moved to a new location here at the office. While that’s the life of a contractor, it did sorta suck. I am no longer in a cubicle at the office. I’m currently stationed in a contractor’s bull-pen, and have a 36” lateral section of shelf to call home. I don’t have any room for my second laptop, and as such, I haven’t used my mobile broadband account, much.
The purchase of an unlocked iPhone 4S for Christmas has me living in the world of EDGE, and I don’t like it. EDGE works, but it is so slow. There are a number of applications and activities that you simply can’t complete or that time out due to the slow speeds on EDGE, and it totally kills the iPhone’s online experience. Knowing that I had the MB account, I tried putting that SIM in one of my 4G Android phones to activate it as a mobile hot spot, but that didn’t work. The SIM wasn’t provisioned for a smartphone, and the thing wouldn’t even get online with a data signal, let alone serve up a hot spot signal.
The solution was obvious to me – the T-Mobile Sonic 4G Hot Spot.
|The T-Mobile Sonic 4G Hot Spot|
T-Mobile has a couple different Mobile Hot Spots: the T-Mobile 4G Hot Spot and the T-Mobile Sonic 4G Hot Spot. The former is the original mobile hot spot that they have offered. The latter is the newer, updated version. The comparison chart between the two is below.
As you can see from the comparison chart, there’s very little that’s different from one model to another. However, the differences that are there, are significant. Going down the list, here they are
- 50 hours more standby battery life in the Sonic 4G
- 30 minutes more continuous use in the Sonic 4G
- The Sonic 4G is 1.24oz heavier than its predecessor. Likely due to the larger battery.
- The Sonic 4G is larger, wider and thicker than its predecessor. Again, likely due to the larger battery.
- The 4G Mobile Hot Spot has a quad-band chip and supports 1700mHz, 1900mHz and 2100mHz.
- The Sonic 4G has a penta-band chip, supporting 4G on just about every GSM frequency available in the USA
- The 4G Mobile Hot Spot supports Local Synchronization (whatever that is) with Wi-Fi.
Based on the penta-band chip alone, the Sonic 4G was the better device to get. I picked one up, and have the following to report.
During the initial setup of the device you’re asked to do a couple of things related to hotspot configuration. There are a couple things that you need to keep in mind related to security and your hotspot.
- Your default administration password is “admin.” I couldn’t find this documented anywhere in ANY of the included documentation , and was seriously thinking that my hotspot was defective, as the default user password wasn’t working when the configuration app asked for a password.
- Setup and configuration of the hotspot allows you to change the SSID and to make it visible or invisible. Hiding the SSID made connecting to it problematic for me and both my Apple MacBook Pro, iPhone 4S and iPad 1. I have no idea why.
- Your default SSID and password are hard coded into the device’s ROM (or other non-volatile area). They are also printed on a factory label under the battery cover. If you reset the hotspot for any reason (all of your custom configuration information will be wiped), your hotspot will revert to factory settings and you’ll need that information to get everything back up and running.
Configuring the actual device is really rather easy. You MUST be connected to the hotspot via Wi-Fi in order to configure it. You can install the configuration app for your OS, or you can simply open up a browser window and surf to 192.168.1.1. This will bring up the configuration page, and the hotspot will ask you for a password. This is where you put the ADMIN password in (again, “admin” without the quotes), not the default user password.
|Initial Admin Login Page|
The first screen you see after you log in is the Settings Page. Here you can change the SSID of the hotspot and have it broadcasted or kept hidden.
|Settings Page 1 of 2 – SSID & Broadcast settings|
The second page of the setup wizard allows you to specify the type of wireless security you want to use and the device’s use password. Make any appropriate changes and click the Finish button.
|Settings Page 2 of 2 – Wireless security type & Password|
If you have wireless networking in your house, the rest of the configuration pages are pretty much self explanatory. However, you will want to click on the Wi-Fi header and change the following Basic Settings: Change the Wi-Fi Auto Off setting to “Disabled.”
|Wi-Fi Basic Settings – Disable Wi-Fi Auto Off|
According to information I was able to find in the support forums for the Sonic 4G Mobile Hotspot, there appears to be a connectivity bug preventing both the device from connecting to T-Mobile’s 4G network as well as devices trying to connect to it, when the device tries to wake from sleep because an allowed or recognized device tries to access the web through it. Disabling Auto Off seems to either minimize or eliminate the bug. T-Mobile needs to address this issue with a firmware update as quickly as they can.
Reception & Signal
T-Mobile’s signal in Chicago over the last two years has been simply amazing. Back in 2003-2004 time frame, I wouldn’t have even considered being a T-Mobile customer, due to their horrible coverage. They were good around most, if not all, of the interstate corridors and about 1000 yards to either side. Other than that, it was a crap shoot. They’ve come a long way since then.
On the 7th floor of the BDBS-IL building in downtown Chicago, I’ve got a 4-bar 4G signal on the Sonic 4G. This level of reception is a far cry better than I got from the Jet 2.0 Web Stick. With it, I was lucky to get 2-3 bars anywhere inside the building.
|The T-Mobile Sonic 4G’s screen|
The Sonic 4G Mobile Hot Spot is rated at 4.5 hours of battery life while its in active use. I’ve been getting 4-4.5 hours consistently over the past week or two since purchasing it, so its been right on the money. Its standby time has also lived up to its specifications. I’ve only got a couple devices configured to use it, so its either off or left on at night, in sleep mode. It lasted a good couple days without a recharge over the weekend, but quickly died after I started using it Monday morning.
Here’s the bottom line as far as power is concerned – If you’re going to use it, keep the USB and/or power cable around. I use this basically all day, every week day; and without access to power, I could find myself cut off from the outside world if the battery dies.
I’m mostly using the Sonic 4G with my unlocked iPhone 4S, though I have also configured it to work with my MacBook Pro. The following are network speeds received through the Sonic 4G on my iPhone 4S. The top two were done on the train on the way into Chicago from the house. The other four were done while I was in the office, sitting at my desk.
|These are the speeds that I’ve been getting on the Sonic 4G Mobile Hot Spot||Additional speed test results. Notice the 10 & 16Mbps entries. With a good connection, this thing really cooks!|
I’ve been taking some additional speed tests with the Sonic 4G. I was really surprised to get some of the test results I got the other day. I was able to clock just over 16Mbps down. That was blazing fast, and the download was almost over before I could even mentally acknowledge that it had taken place. Average speeds for me between downtown Chicago and my home are between 2Mbps – 6Mbps down with a median of 4.53MBps down; and .50Mbps – 1.25Mbps up with a median of 0.89Mbps up.
This is an awesome choice for mobile broadband users. You get up to 5 devices on the hotspot at a single time, and can get cable modem speeds or better. I was able to have a FaceTime video call with a writing partner this morning and the call was flawless. However, additional attempts at video calls during the heart of the day proved to be either not possible or result in the call being dropped. However, for simple, low-bandwidth tasks, like light surfing, mail and texting, the Sonic 4G has been perfect.
The device is small, easy and convenient to carry, as its about the same size and shape as a small smartphone. Its display is easy to read. The device really only has had two problems during my time with it.
- There appears to be a known bug with the device reconnecting to mobile broadband service and allowing devices to send and receive data after waking from sleep. I was able to find a work around for this issue by disabling auto sleep, but that option clearly impacts battery life. I’m hoping T-Mobile addresses this known issue with a firmware update in the near future.
- The device gets hot during use. So hot, in fact, that the carrying pouch that comes with the device CLEARLY states that you shouldn’t have the device in the pouch when you want to use it. Here in Chicago, despite the unseasonably warm Winter we’re having, this isn’t a problem. In the Summer if it gets very hot, that may be a different story.
Price: $0.00 to $99.99 USD on contract, $174.99 Contract Free from T-Mobile USA.
- Up to 5 concurrent users can connect, but will share bandwidth
- Small, easy and convenient to carry
- Poor documentation (admin password)
- Device overheats easily during extended use
- Performance tanked after about a week requiring a factory reset
- Customizing and disabling broadcast of the SSID prevented connectivity