WiFi hotspot in your car: ZTE Mobley review

AT&T reached out to us to product test their mobile hotspot, the ZTE Mobley. We said we’d give it a whirl on a seven-hour road trip, because I was curious about the pros and cons of having a WiFi hotspot in your car: after trying it out, would we want to keep it? Would we decide we needed it, or not?

Do you need a mobile hotspot in your car?

We opted to set up the ZTE Mobley mobile hotspot in our Toyota van for use during a seven-hour road trip from Southern Oregon to Eastern Washington. I figured it was a good journey for testing: most of the route is on interstate, with plenty of cell towers close enough to be in range, with only occasional loss of coverage during mountain passes. It’s also a mixture of rural, suburban, and urban areas. It’s a typical road trip route for us here in the Northwest.

Note: this review is written for AT&T customers. If you’re not with AT&T, you can skip the set up instructions and scroll down to the part where we describe whether we think the hotspot is worth bringing on road trips.

Setting up the ZTE Mobley:

I tend to dread the ‘set up’ process when it comes to new technology, but as it turned out, setting up the mobile hotspot was easy-peasy. The ZTE Mobley is shaped a lot like an ink cartridge, and inserts directly into the OBD II connector port in your car (yeah, I didn’t know I had one, either). All you need to do is start your car’s engine, then connect your smart phone (or other WiFi-enabled device) to the network. To do this, you go through the usual steps: under WiFi on your phone, search for the WiFi network name and input password. Launch your browser.

ZTE Mobley hotspot

Note: you can always manage your hotspot at http://attwifimanager.com.

On the road:

Once we were up and running, we could connect up to five wireless devices to the mobile hotspot, shared across main and guest networks. Parents: you can block certain devices from logging onto the WiFi, though it would seem to me that if you have activated the hotspot in your car, you’re ok with everyone using it. Just like any other WiFi network, you can change the password as desired.

The ZTE Mobley worked great for us on our road trip, during which we had three devices logged onto the WiFi. My teenaged sons streamed some Netflix TV shows, and I was able to work on my laptop, researching an upcoming travel story, when not in the drivers’ seat. Normally, we have a ‘no streaming’ rule on road trips, because we go through 4G data so fast when we allow it. The kids thought it was a nice treat to entertain themselves with Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes.

Of course, there were a few places en route where we lost connection due to signal strength, but this was expected. We simply refreshed. I read criticism of the Mobley that sometimes, the signal dropped from LTE to 3G or lower, but we didn’t experience this problem.

So, do you need a WiFi hotspot in your car?

Potentially, a hotspot in your car can allow you or your kids to entertain themselves with gaming in the car, movies, TV shows, and other apps that require WiFi. I really enjoyed the ability to get work done. We were also able to stream audio books we didn’t want to have to download, saving us time and storage before our road trip. That said, in my opinion, a WiFi hotspot in the car is a nice luxury, but certainly not a necessity. We don’t personally allow screens in our car for short trips, but do allow them on long trips, making the hotspot desirable sometimes, but not all the time. With a two-year contract, however, you unfortunately can’t turn your hotspot on and off as desired.

My conclusion: I view car WiFi much like I view GoGo Inflight WiFi: well worth paying for when you need it, but not needed for every trip.

With a two-year contract, you can’t, unfortunately, turn your hotspot on and off as desired.

Cost:

If you decide a mobile hotspot is right for your family, it’s pretty affordable. If you’re an AT&T customer, the Mobley is free with a two-year contract. You can get 1 GB for $20/month or 3 GB for $30/month.

Disclosure: We tried the ZTE Mobley free of charge for six weeks, for the purpose of review.  We are AT&T customers, and unfortunately for us, AT&T does not pay our monthly cellular bill. 

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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