Karma Go: A better mobile access point

Forget personal hotspots to get your non-cellular devices connected to the Internet when you're out and about ...

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Credit: DARPA / Wikipedia

While most cell providers now allow your smartphone to become a personal hotspot there are a few problems with this in practice. The first is that with iPhones, sometimes the hotspot service mysteriously just stops working and the device requires you to disable FaceTime then reboot. That's bad enough but for other users, the hotspot feature sometimes has been reported to stop working all together. In other words, iPhone-based hotspots don’t seem to be completely reliable but, for that matter, neither do hotspots on Android devices.  Another issue is that the maximum number of connected devices is five for most smartphone hotspots and when you exceed three throughput may drop noticeably.

That’s all pretty annoying but that’s as nothing compared to the irritation that you’ll feel when you exceed your data plan. With AT&T if you go over your allocation they charge you $15 for each extra gigabyte and when your next billing period starts whatever’s left of the gigabyte is lost! 

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The Karma Go mobile Wi-Fi hotspot

I have a solution: Get a Karma Go. The Karna Go is a tiny (2.9 inches square and o.49 inches thick, weighing 2.3 ounces) Wi-Fi access point (802.11b/g/n 2.4Ghz wireless networking that supports up to eight users (note that the Wi-Fi connections of all devices accessing the Karma Go are isolated from each other). Powered by a rechargeable 1500mAh Lithium-ion battery the Karma Go has 220 hours of standby time and 6 hours of Internet use.

The connection to the Internet is via Sprint’s 4G LTE cell service with support for Sprint Spark (an enhanced LTE service) and fallback to CDMA (3G). When 4G LTE is available the total download throughput for all connected users will be 6 to 8Mbps with peaks up to 25Mbps and an upload performance of 2 to 3Mbps. When LTE isn’t available, the Karma Go will connect via CDMA giving a download performance 0.6 to 1.4Mbps with peaks up to 3.1Mbps and uploads at  0.35 to 5Mbps.

To use a Karma Go you and anyone who connects via your Karma Go has to login either via your account or their own Karma Go account. When other people are guests, i.e. they are using their own account to access the Internet through your Karma Go, your traffic has priority so your performance won’t be impacted by their Internet use.

There are two types of data plans: The Refuel account, which allows for up to 8 connected devices, costs $14 per gigabyte but whatever you don’t use what you don’t lose; in other words, the data you purchase never expires and there’s an optional Auto Refill feature. [UPDATE: The Neverstop plan details have been corrected.] The Neverstop account allows for up to three connected devices and  costs $50 per month for 5GB of data at up to 5Mbps and after you’ve used 15GB "... you’ll still be online but with speeds good enough for email and chat (around 64-128Kbps)". The Neverstop account also gives you $1 back for every gigabyte you don’t use each month.

While you can simply access the Karma Go and login via your Web browser you can also use the Karma Go iOS and Android apps which also provide information on your signal and battery life, show your data balance, allow you to add data, view who you’re sharing your Wi-Fi with, and monitor your data usage in real time.

I tested a Karma Go and it does something I love; it just works. It’s straightforward and I found the performance to be as claimed. In short, at $149 the Karma Go is a great mobile solution and gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

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