Meet the Novatel MiFi Liberate: the first mobile access point with a touchscreen, letting you configure it without connecting it to a computer.
If you're not familiar with mobile access points, these handy gadgets allow you to hook up to the Internet via cellular networks. It's useful, often essential, if you're in an area that has no Wi-Fi. If you're in range of a cellular tower, this MiFi Liberate lets you and up to 10 others get online using any Wi-Fi capable devices.
Mobile access points are ideal for frequent travelers, accommodating anyone who needs to get online wherever they are. Just the fact that you're no longer at the mercy of hotels and their Wi-Fi price-gouging makes it worth the cost of admission.
The Novatel MiFi device we tested connects to the AT&T LTE network. That resulted in spectacular upload and download speed, rivaling that of wired broadband networks. The speed of LTE is variable depending on how many people are using it and how close you are to one of its broadcast towers but if you've been limping along with 3G connectivity, you'll probably be astonished at the difference.
How fast was this MiFi Liberate? We took multiple readings in a variety of locations. It averaged a zippy 19.70 Mbps for downloads, and a tremendous 20.66 Mbps for uploads. That kind of speed can make a big difference in your work, especially if you're dealing with large files. In many ways, though, that's more of a testament to the speed of AT&T's network, rather than the alacrity of this particular device. Your mileage may vary.
The best new feature of this device is its excellent 2.8-inch LCD capacitive touchscreen, the first of its kind. It responds to the slightest touch, letting you easily wander around its menus. And even while using that gorgeous screen, it still has in excess of 10 hours of battery life per charge.
That screen can come in handy in unexpected ways. For example, we were impressed with the way it indicated when a device has connected. Once it has, you can drill down farther, finding out more about that device. The screen adjusts for orientation, righting itself when you turn it upside down just like smartphones do.
If you and others are connected to this MiFi unit, it lets you share movies, photos and music via DLNA, with all of you accessing content on a microSD card inserted into the side of this versatile gadget.
All that versatility and convenience doesn't come cheap. While the MiFi Liberate costs $49.99 with a two-year contract, you'll also need to pay a monthly tariff for your LTE connectivity. Because of its blazing speed, we're thinking you might want to spring for the 5 GB a month plan for $50 from AT&T. That takes the MiFi Liberate out of the value-priced category, and into one that you hope your boss will be willing to pay for.
After spending a couple of weeks with this unit, it was easy to conclude that the Novatel MiFi Liberate is the best portable access point we've ever tested.