AT&T Velocity Review: A Wi-Fi Hotspot for “Almost” Anyone

by Reads (236)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Design
      • 7
      • Features
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 8
      • Durability
      • 7
      • Utility
      • 6
      • Total Score:
      • 7.20
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Dual-band Wi-Fi
    • Great battery life
    • Excellent range
  • Cons

    • Are you a business traveler? Do you really need a hotspot?

Quick Take

Not everyone needs a hotspot. For those that do, the Velocity is a good choice thanks to its features and performance. Buy it off contract and pay as you go on data.

Hotspots aren’t for everyone. For most, the free Wi-Fi at coffee shops, libraries, and public parks is more than enough. When it’s not available, a smartphone hotspot feature can suffice.

AT&T Velocity is about the size of an old feature phone

AT&T Velocity is about the size of an old feature phone

But for some users, publically available Wi-Fi isn’t plentiful enough and is rife with security risks. For them, particularly the business-minded set who just has to get work done, smartphone battery life is equally important. That’s why many still turn to hotspots for their mobile connectivity, which offer the added benefit of connectivity options typically limited to home routers.

The AT&T Velocity from ZTE is one such device. It’s a 4G LTE mobile hotspot a bit larger than a smartphone that spits out 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi. It supports both dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz), and allows up to 10 connections at once. It has a relatively large touchscreen display and basic security features to satisfy even the most guarded business users.

So is that enough to justify its off-contract price or another two years of additional fees? Let’s find out.

Build and Design

The AT&T Velocity is made by ZTE, and has dimensions typical of early feature phone. It measures 4.5 x 2.5 x .7 inches (WHD) and weighs 0.28 pounds. It has a sturdy plastic build with a removable back cover and 2.4-inch display adorning the front along with a thick bezel covered in glass and LED indicator light. The top landscape side houses a microSD card slot (up to 32 GB), WPS key, and power button. The bottom houses a microUSB input next to a SIM card slot and hard reset button.

For a device designed to simply sit on a desk or in a pocket, there’s nothing wrong with it. It feels durable, and will likely survive the occasional drop, or a time jostling around a purse or backpack.

Display

AT&T Velocity back panel is removable

AT&T Velocity back panel is removable

The 240×320 display is serviceable. It’s touch-enabled but not nearly as responsive or swift as a modern smartphone. It works well for what it is, however, and navigating the menu system is as easy as it should be.

The display can be toggled off and on and set to varying levels of brightness. It typically displays the Wi-Fi network name and password, but that can be hidden. Hiding it provides minimum security however, as there is nothing stopping snoops from diving into the display settings and selecting “show.”

Fortunately, the display can also be locked. The promotional images of the AT&T Velocity also show a quick-see bar of monitoring data consumption. Our test unit didn’t have that, and instead had a note that read, “To check your data go to att.com/mygophone.” This is most likely because we tested the Velocity on a prepaid SIM, and not a monthly data plan.

There are no options for setting a custom message on the display. That’s a minor gripe, but would be nice nonetheless.

Connectivity Options and Features

AT&T Velocity has a microSD card slot

AT&T Velocity has a microSD card slot

The AT&T Velocity offers Wi-Fi through AT&T’s LTE, HSPA+, and 3G networks. It’s dual-band, meaning it offers both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi. The former band is the more common standard, provides a wider signal range, and consumes less battery. In areas busy with other Wi-Fi signals, 5GHz reduces the chance of signal interference and offers better throughput on the newer devices that support it. It will also work overseas wherever AT&T has a signal.
The Velocity also lets users set the Wi-Fi range to short, medium, or long.

There are various other settings for dealing with guest networks, WPS security, international data, and device blocking, to name a few. Logging into the online manager via a web browser reveals deeper settings (managing the network name, changing the password, etc.), and it’s also where users go to take advantage of the microSD file sharing feature.

Finally, the Velocity is tied to a cell number and can receive SMS messages, or so the documentation claims. There is a “messages” section, and AT&T sent us account information through it, but any attempts to send SMS messages from our own smartphones failed. Again, this is likely because we tested the Velocity on a prepaid card.

Performance

AT&T Velocity USB and SIM card side

AT&T Velocity USB and SIM card side

In various tests, we were able to maintain a steady connection at approximately 120 feet of open office space on both bands with the wireless router set to “long.” Once connected speed is extremely variable. AT&T has ample network coverage, and between the LTE, HPSA+ and 3G, users won’t be far from a decent-enough connection.

With a strong LTE connection, we managed a max of 17.48Mbps down and 15.06Mbps up on the 5GHz band, and 8.94Mbps down and 9.55Mbps up on 2.4GHz. That’s perfect for streaming and dealing with email attachments. Even with weaker LTE connections, we were still able stream Netflix without issue. Users should expect slightly slower performance with HSPA+, and 3G is suitable for email and simple web surfing, but streaming media will be frustratingly slow.

We caution any user to be careful with all that speed. In testing, two work days of LTE connectivity with minimal video streaming were enough to almost eat through our entire 2 GB allotment.

In terms of battery, the Velocity shines. AT&T claims the user-replaceable, 2800mAh unit can last for 10 hours of usage and 10 days of standby. To test this, we maxed the display brightness and set it to never time out. We then connected multiple devices via the 5GHz band with the Velocity set to “long.”

It easily lasted 10 hours. In other words, the bare minimum an individual user can expect from the Velocity is 10 hours, and that’s great. Your laptop or tablet battery will likely die before then.

Conclusion

If you’re the type who needs a personal hotspot, then it’s worth getting one with full connectivity features. That’s the AT&T Velocity – at least for AT&T customers. As of this writing, it costs $0.99 with a two-year agreement, or $149.99 without. There are more expensive options that allow for up to 15 connections and share a battery charge, but that’s overkill.

The Velocity is a good hotspot with a tough build that offers great performance. Buy it off contract and pay as you go on data. If you travel enough, you’ll eventually be happy you did.

Pros

  • Dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Great battery life
  • Excellent range

Cons:

  • Are you a business traveler? Do you really need a hotspot?


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