FreedomPop Review: Unboxing, Download Speeds, Size Comparisons

I ended up ordering a FreedomPop mobile hotspot last week for the 500 mb in free wireless internet each money, and have been playing with it for a couple of days. Here’s a review including what came in the box, hotspot size comparison, download speed test results, and my overall initial impressions of the service.

Unboxing. The mobile hotspot “hockey puck” shipped the next day after ordering, and arrived a few days after that. Inside the box was the hotspot, a USB charging cable, and a USB AC adapter. The charging cable port appears to be the micro-USB standard size. I included a credit card for size comparison.

The hotspot is quite small and fits in a pocket or purse nicely. I placed it next to a naked iPhone 4 for width and thickness comparison. I’d say it is about the size of half a modern smartphone and the same thickness.

 

The unit does a pretty good job conveying a lot of useful information in a small package. The power LED changes color to indicate low, medium, or high battery charge. The WiFi LED indicates either users connected or no users connected. The 4G LED indicates searching, weak, good, or excellent signal strength.

Setup. The hotspot came pre-charged, just turn it on and go. The default name of the WiFi network and the WiFi password are printed on the unit itself. Once connected via WiFi, you can change the settings by visiting 192.168.1.1 in your web browser. The default password for the control panel is “admin”. You’ll want to change both the WiFi password and the control panel password for security reasons. Other than that, it works right away.

Download Speeds. I’m sure download speeds will vary for everyone, but here are my results from SpeedTest.net. Over multiple tries over 2 days, I achieved an average download speed of about 1.2 Mbps down and 0.5 Mbps up using the 4G Clearwire WiMax hotspot. That’s actually about 50% slower than the 3G cellular data speeds on my iPhone, and much slower than my home broadband connection. Not that impressive for “4G” with “good” or “excellent” signal strength according to the indicator lights. I didn’t pay the extra fee for their “Speed Plus” option, so there may be some throttling going on for us free users.

WiFi-only and iPod Touch users. If you have an off-contract smartphone or iPod Touch and you only want to use the free data for voice calls with no monthly bills at all, you can do it. I tested both the Vonage Mobile and Talkatone free iOS apps and made outgoing calls successfully if a little grainy. If you buy the $3 GV Connect app, you can also receive phone calls using your Google Voice number. I’d guesstimate 500 mb will get you around 200-400 minutes.

Initial Impressions. The hotspot size is great; I’d actually prefer it over an iPhone or iPod Touch sleeve. The download speeds are somewhat disappointing, but for casual usage it should be fine. In the end, this is not a premium product, but a discount service with a few mostly-avoidable gotchas for those looking to minimize their monthly bills. (An eagle-eyed reader pointed out that the $89 refundable deposit is only refundable within the first 12 months.) If you combine a used smartphone with WiFi + a cheap prepaid carrier + FreedomPop + casual usage, you could probably have a little bit of everything for well under $20 a month. To your friends, you’d appear to be “keeping up with the Jones” with an $80 monthly bill… but secretly saving 60 bucks a month = $720 a year per line.

Comments

  1. I would get this but it is not available in my area yet (rural PA). Right now my only option is DSL for $52/mo.

    Does the service allow incoming connections, for example, could you run a web server, game server, or remote desktop service using this internet connection?

    • To Peter in rural PA:

      I would suggest that you buy the “Freedom Spot – 4G/3G MiFi” that has the “WiMax 4G speeds” but could also uses the 3g speeds in the non-4g area such as your location in rural PA. Please notice those words in quotation marks. Those are the keys words about the device. Currently, the refurbished one is selling $49. The coverage area is equivelant to the area that Sprint covers. Just a thought.

  2. How does it do at streaming video from, say, Netflix or Amazon? Also, how does it do when you aren’t in one constant location? I’d be interested in something like this to be able to stream video to a wifi tablet for my kid(s) in the car.

  3. Thanks for the password reset tip. I hadn’t figured that out yet.

  4. I ordered the square-shaped one, and I am waiting for its ship-out. Reading the article, I got the feeling that the FreedomPop Hotspot would work the same as that of a brand named CLEAR, but the latter charges monthly fee of $35 and requires an initial nonrefundable purchase of its Hotspot for $89. I ordered the CLEAR Hotspot on August 15, 2012, received it on Saturday, August 18th, and tried it during our trip to the Denver area but there was no signal in Fraser and Winter Park, CO, and no signal in Boulder, CO, which is 30 miles from Denver, Colorado.

    Just a thought.

  5. Virgin Mobile $25, 300 minute, unlimited text and data plan with almost any Android phone will provide built in hotspot capability, either natively or with little effort. The Virgin Mobile $25 plan is now $35 for new customers. I used my phones hotspot capability while in the cruise ports in Miami, St Thomas and Puerto Rico.

  6. Andy, This wouldn’t be a good choice for video. Streaming video eats a lot of bandwidth. You’d use up the 500MB of free data very quickly. An online calculator at Verizon says that standard definition video would be 650MB for just an hour. So with only 500MB free data you’d get less than 1 hour of video. After that its $.02 per MB which would be quite expensive for video, like >$10 per hour.

  7. I got the same device with no Speed Plus, and my download speed here in NJ is much better than yours. I consistently get 7~10Mb/s download speed which is comparable to typical 3G. For now I’m happy with the service, but there are many unknowns so I will wait and see. Thanks for the tip on deposit refund limitation.

  8. Didnt see any comments on the previous post but is there any competitor paid plans that are reasonably priced? Preferably on a more stable backhaul than Wimax as well?

  9. I have been playing with the hotspot for a couple of days now and I use it during my commute to NYC from NJ. The coverage along the route is spotty and it takes intermittent waits for signal, but when there is a signal, the download is acceptable for a website. I have used a few apps like engadget, bgr, nytimes, newser and huffingtonpost and with all the waiting for the signal i must have hardly used it for an hour in the last 3 days. I checked the usage today and it has already blown off 40mb. This is with spotty coverage. I suspect the usage is being blown off in packets of Mbs every time you connect and does not indicate actual usage. Has anyone else noticed this?

  10. the included 500mb is nothing to sneeze at. however, make sure you stay under 400mb used or the account with automatically top off with 10$ charge unless you change the defaults in your online settings.

    Netzero cut their device prices but only offers 200mb/mo for a year, then it is no longer free. Freedompop is better in the long term.

    am consider getting the USB stick + a cradlepoint router to create an at home solution for occasional use and mobile laptop.

  11. It’s a shame the download speeds are so average as looks like a great little hotspot and the 500 free megabytes is a nice bonus.

  12. Getting 5 to 8 mbps download and 1 to 2 mbps upload in Miami with strong signal.

    I streamed Netflix smoothly for a few minutes on my iPad with no hiccups. It ate up around 30 Mb though.

  13. How is it you received yours so fast? I ordered my wifi sleeve 3 months ago and am getting nothing but the run around from Freedompop.

  14. Frenchfry says:

    I do wonder if you add a freedom friend if the extra 10meg of data last 60 days or is recurring every month. As I read the terms a referral signup is recurring. I guess time will tell on this.

  15. This is a SCAM! I ordered the FreedomSpot Photon a couple weeks ago. It arrived in a torn-open box with a torn up invoice and a barcode torn off the box (not sure if this will affect my ability to return yet).

    Turned on the Photon at 7 PM and watched an Amazon streaming video (1996 “Eraser”) between 7 and 9 PM. Next day I find out I was charged a whopping FORTY BUCKS in overage charges!!

    Apparently streaming an Amazon movie ate 2 Gb. Their “notification” that I was near an overage did not come until after midnight.

    Here is the Customer Support reply I was given:
    David,

    Our devices and 500mb plans allow for users to freely surf the internet and check emails. Watching movies uses data much more intensely than simple internet usage. Unfortunately, it is against our company policy to issue you a refund for data you’ve used.

    Heres a clarification regarding our top up feature.

    Due to the slight delay in the reporting of data usage it is possible that you have surpassed the 400MB threshold and exceeded your 500MB free data allotment during the window in which your data usage was unknown by our system because of the delay. Because our system is alerted that you have surpassed the 400mb threshold after you have actually used more than 500MB of data, you are charged for this additional data used at a rate $0.02 per MB as an overage. Because it doesn’t make sense to charge your payment method repeatedly with multiple charges of less than a dollar, we charge your payment method $10, credit your FreedomPop account with $10, and deduct the charges associated with the overage data used from this credit. So your account is not being topped-up, you are paying for overage data used. Since you have a credit in your FreedomPop account greater than $2 your account will not be suspended and you can continue to use data.

    –So, basically, you have enough Mb each month to log on. Then you are getting into overages, which they will happily bill you quickly in $10 increments and notify you that you are approaching that limit 3 hours after you have passed it. On top of that, their policy is ‘No Refunds for Data Used’.

    OK, this one is going back.

  16. @Dave – If you read what jim said, the 6th comment above, “This wouldn’t be a good choice for video. … which would be quite expensive for video, like >$10 per hour.” Sorry for your overlooking this message. Take care.

  17. @Frenchfry

    10meg of data per friend is recurring every month as long as the friend remains a subscriber of freedompop.

  18. @ Dave — you’re a dumbass who should probably stay away from computers if you couldn’t figure out that a FULL LENGTH movie was going to exceed the modest 500mb cap of free data you’re given. It’s interesting that you’ve chosen to post your stupidity on multiple sites in an effort to bash FP. Get over it, it’s not their fault and the only thing they’re guilty of is putting out a product that isn’t 100% moron proof.

  19. Captain Cheapo says:

    I’ve been using the Hotspot for over a month now. So far, no charges and it works very well. It was incredibly useful during Sandy where everyone’s power and internet went out. Was sweet to be able to use my laptops when everyone was running around like chickens looking for places to recharge their cell phones. Obviously, FreedomPop is a business model built on preying on fools like Dave who don’t read the fine print. This is fine for the rest of us who do. If you are one who pays attention to detail, using FreedomPop for free might be one the best deals ever. Well almost. That British Airways Chase Visa will probably never be matched.

  20. FreedomPop in Seattle has speeds slower than 3g, and no you can’t stream videos or play any sort of RTS games on it. In addition, it drops out pretty frequently unless you’re standing outside with it.

  21. Hi All.

    As it has been a couple of months since the last post, I am curious to know the perception of those who have/had the device. Is there anything that was not explicitly stated in the policy that would help a new consumer? What do/did you do with your device? How long does your battery last if you have the Photon? Do you still like your device? Any other material information would be appreciated. Thank you!!

    *I understand that coverage can be “spotty”, but that is to be expected as this is a startup in Beta testing*

  22. The only gotcha to me is the 500MB/top-up stuff. If you DONT sign up to automatically top-up when you hit 400MB, you ONLY get 400MB. When you sign up, carefully read ALL of the text. It will default to top up and try to switch you to the faster speed. I had to attempt sign up 3 times before my invoice actually came to 0$/mo. I actually have not seen what happens when you hit the 400MB.

    I do find it can take a while to get a signal; maybe 1-2 mins. It is seamless connection to device locally. Battery has lasted the 6-7hrs it says, but I was not actively using it all that time.

    In some very limited driving testing, the signal dropped quite a bit. My experience with basic youtube video feeds for news shows is about 100-150MB per show. I like the Opera browser since it has an option to turn off graphics down loading and also shows your data download total so far. FP updates your data usage about 30-60 mins after you start.

    It is a great tool for the casual user on the go. Reading basic web content and email is fine. I prefer it to unknown free wifi spots. Speeds are fine to me though I dont have measurements.

    I think the new 10GB/$10 home broadband deal is a game changer and will probably switch from ATT after my discount period is over.

  23. Using it in SF Bay area, particularly South Bay. Speeds are not that fast (1.2 MB down, 0.1 up). But hey, it’s free. Thank you for pointing out that item must be refunded in 12 months.

    I’m sure Verizon/AT&T will drop data prices soon, so soon everyone will win (except Verizon/AT&T).

  24. LindaMay says:

    Can you play games from POGO and if so approx how many MB per month will it use if you play Scrabble for approx 2 hrs. per day?

  25. Nathan dufault says:

    @TacoCat, are you paying for Speed Plus? I’m in Seattle and getting 12/1.5Mbps generally. Signal of course is bad inside since it’s WiMax but streaming video is fine. Was wondering if I should cancel Speed Plus but sounds like maybe not.

  26. I had my first experience with going over 400MB with no top-up set up. I had used 395MB prior to logging in (prior day, not recent log in) and then used 28MB more with no problem before I logged off. However, when I tried later to sync up with 423MB on my usage meter, I could no longer get a connection. When I logged into my account, it has a window saying I am blocked until I deposited more $$ in my account (which I didnt).

    So as long as you start a session with under 400MB, you can use over 400MB/mo w/ no top up set up. You technically dont have 500MB free each month unless you start a connection with under 400MB noted…. I am not sure if they have a hard cut off at 500MB. When my new 30 day window started up, I was able to sync up again.

  27. I got my hotspot device about a week ago. Despite the fact that Freedom Pop says I’m in a covered area, I have not been able to get a 4G signal to lock in. I get 4 or 5 bars/lights, but nothing. I’m about ready to return it (I’ve tried it in multiple rooms/multiple positions/etc.) – any tips about how to orient it? I live in Pittsburgh, right in the city.

  28. @JulieJulieJulie if you get a signal, it should work. I doubt it’s the device itself that’s bad–if you haven’t already, try contacting support and see if it’s just not properly registered or something.

  29. @ Thad – with going over the 500MB/Mth without top up, is your account suspended and did you get charged any amounts even though you’ve disabled automatic top up? Does anyone know the question to this? Basically want to know if I have to track my usage and get charged alot or is there a ceiling cap by disabling automatic top up?

  30. I did not actually go over the 500MB limit so dont know what would happen on the fly. My GUESS is that a charge would be placed on your account. Without the top up, once your account goes over 400MB (NOT 500MB), you can’t re-log in until your new billing cycle starts. I THINK if you are in, you keep on racking up MB’s since it can take hours before your actual usage is posted to your account…. I think that is how they try to buffer you from an overage shock without a hard block at the 500MB mark.

  31. My photon died after barely 6 months of use. Battery would not fully charge, then would not even power on with power attached. After a few weeks of back and forth with “support”, they sent a new one. The new now does not activate. Says “no device exists for that id”. They also de-activated my login….. I liked the device while it worked, but it is a pain to get right-sided once it goes bad….”Support” is usually a 2 day wait then they close your query if they dont hear back from you in 2 days…..

    How are other users fairing after 6 month usage?

  32. Hi,
    Thanks for the data. I’m moving out for 3-4 months and was looking for a hot spot since there is no land line and internet connection in the new place.

    My question is this: They offer 1 GB free. I need this for my laptop. I’m using my Laptop for 3-4 a day. I’m sure I’ll go over the 1GB and much more.
    I don’t have any clue how much 3-4 hours a day will be used in terms of GB
    Could you please let me know and also if there is another option.
    Thank you
    Ami

  33. Beware— STAY AWAY FROM FREEDOMPOP…………. In November 2013, I signed up for freedompop’s BYOD to get the free plan, 200 minutes, 500 text messages, and 500mb of data. After 20 days of having the service, I get an alert stating that I only have 127 mb of data left. I immediately contacted freedompop’s customer service by email because if you call them, you’ll be waiting to speak to someone anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes. I explained to them that the phone has ONLY been at my house using MY OWN WI-FI, so how in the world could I be using freedompop’s data? I have only made two test phone calls and did two quick test online bing searches. The cell phone has a cracked screen and a bad battery, so it’s off 95% of the time due to the battery dying. On the days that they show I am using tons of data, the phone is OFF. Two days later, I get a reply saying to make sure that wi-fi is selected and not 4G. I do know the difference between the two, so for the past three years, I am a trillion percent sure that the phone has been ONLY on wi-fi. I always check the settings on the phone to ensure that wi-fi is selected. It has been three days, and I have not heard back from freedompop. They still did not address the fact that they show me using their data when my phone is OFF. I addressed this issue on their facebook page three days ago; still no response. This is obvioulsy a scam and a way for me to spend money on their services. Stay away, far away from freedompop.

  34. Dee-Baby, I’m not sure about the phone version since I am using a hotspot but I found in their FAQ that if you charge the hotspot from a computer with the computer on, it will act like a modem and you will use your data. Seems like a long shot, but maybe if you are charging your phone through computer’s usb.. it may be using data? I definitely don’t think that Freedompop should have it so that is even a concern for you, but it could be a reason.

    For everyone else, I just got the Photon last month and have been using it pretty frequently the past few weeks. It seems to be working very nice. The last time I did a speedtest I was in Downtown San Jose with excellent signal and I had about 7mbps with no speed plus or anything. Pretty fair for web surfing.

  35. I bought this devise for 99.99 and after 21 days of waiting for it plug it in and it doesn’t work.I call them up and talk with them and they tell me oh it won’t work in your area code in NH so I said I want my money back I look today and they r trying to take out 20 more dollars I’m about to kill someone I told why did you send it to me in the first place. I wonder how many other people they have scaled!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. I’ve been using mine happily for well over a year now. As long as you are careful and read the fine print, it is really a quite amazing deal. I have never paid one bloody cent over the original cost of the hotspot $95. Not bad for 15 months of surfing. I only stream and download apps/updates when on wifi.

  37. After reading about all the comments about Freedom pop.
    There is one thing I noticed alot. I only paid Less than $25
    for mine. Mine came from Groupon Many others paid close to $100.

    • My spouse was invited by Freedompop on 1-2-2014 for a Photon (refurbished) for $1 plus shipping $16.99. Thus, we grabbed this one at total out-of-pocket price $18.07.

  38. I have had a horrible experience with freedompoop, First of all I brought my own device(phone) because its cheaper to buy one from Ebay. Of course they charge an activation fee $20 to do this, I researched this service and was aware of their automatic top up, and some of the other bells and whistles they try to get you with, but I never knew about this as its not stated anywhere I could tell. OK, no big deal because it was STILL cheaper buying a new phone off eBay even with the $20 dollars.
    It doesn’t end here folks, I used a prepaid card because i don’t trust them, and it worked fine, until one day they “suspended” my service. Not because they couldn’t get any money, but because they couldn’t access my card. Did it matter that I already had plenty of money in their account to cover more than a month, and on the card? NOPE. Note: this does not make me want to give them my actual card because then who knows what they might do with it. They were getting their money and even if they didn’t all they had to do was cancel my account. The reason i put quotes on suspended is because even though they wont let me use my account, they are still counting down my billing cycle. Here’s another thing, their “Unlimited” service is not Unlimited. what it really means is 2,500 voice minutes, and 5000 texts. While that seems like enough, its another thing, of the so many that one only uncovers after they have paid. Here’s another thing, once you go to a pay service, their Free option is no longer available, maybe you could call or email them, but that brings me to how terrible their customer service is. When emailing them it took me a whole week to get a response, and by then i had moved on.
    Ok, so even if they don’t have a plethora of gotchas around every corner, what about their service quality. It Sucks. The software is incredibly buggy, here are some examples. The phone sometimes will never hang up(even when other caller has), and then it continues to count off your minutes. The only way I found to hang up is to reboot they phone, I usually have to remove the battery. Calls sometimes will not go through, the only way to know this is if you realized their voice mail is a separate app (took me a month to find this out) and you check it. The voice mail is clear, but I haven’t used it enough to figure if its any good. The call quality is terrible, even over WiFi- and is often unusable, especially if the other caller has a sub par service. If your using it over 3G good luck. The calls are extremely lagged, and you cannot talk while the other person is, so be prepared, yelling wont help. I usually use WIFI, and I have never had these problems with the normal callers i talk to on other phones. Oh theirs more…. but I think I have wrote a book here, and If you guys haven’t gotten the point by now, I dunno. I really want to like freedompop , but they just make it soooooo hard, I suppose the old saying is true here, you get what you pay for.

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