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Review: Novatel Wireless Liberate MiFi on AT&T

The answer is undramatic, which is good. I averaged 10 to 15 meg downstream, and 2 to 7 meg upstream, which is consistent with almost all LTE devices on both AT&T and Verizon (VZ - Get Report) that I have been testing recently.

One year ago, when there were far fewer LTE devices -- the pre-iPad 3 and pre-iPhone 5 days -- the speeds were faster, but they remain excellent. An average ping (latency) runs around 40ms, again typical for this LTE class.

One final aspect: battery life. I found it to be excellent, equalling the best portable WiFi hotspots in the market.

In other words, this truck can actually tow like a truck. In the end, that is what matters the most. You get this device so you can work for most of the day without taxing your smartphone's battery. Mission accomplished.

Price: Expensive, Sort Of

The device price is $200 unless you sign a 2-year contract with AT&T, at which point it is $50. Even if you pay the sort-of-unsubsidized $200 price, though, it won't be unlocked, so you would still be tied to AT&T for as long as you end up using the device. No inserting a competing SIM card from T-Mobile or equivalent here!

The monthly service cost takes a while to figure out at the AT&T Web site. The language is plenty confusing. Even visiting one of AT&T's premier stores in the whole country turned out to be a bit confusing.

Anyway, in the end the choices are this:

1. Pay $50 per month for 5 gig, plus $10 per gig of overage.

2. Add $20 per month to your existing AT&T cell phone bill to share whatever amount of data for which you are paying as a bucket for all of your AT&T devices.

In the broader context, this is expensive. From Walmart (WMT), you can get a SIM card that gives you unlimited data, unlimited SMS and 100 minutes of circuit-switched calls for $30 per month. AT&T selling you 5 gig for $50 is a terrible deal in comparison.

Bottom line: Good product

The Novatel Wireless Liberate MiFi on AT&T is as good or better than every other dedicated portable WiFi hotspot in the market, from any carrier -- despite the horrible touchscreen response, which you just don't have to use very often.

The only negative about these kinds of products, because they are sold by most carriers attached to inflated monthly service plans, is that you're simply paying too much for too little data.

The Novatel Wireless Liberate MiFi on AT&T gets an 8 out of 10.

At the time of publication, the author was long GOOG and AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
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