Monday, May 12, 2014

Smart Bro LTE Pocket Wifi Review

When the wife and I came back from the US, while we were still in transition, the first thing we decided to get, something that we can't live without, is a fast internet connection.

Yes, we live in a connected world...

At the start, we used a pocket wifi from one of the cheapest networks. Unfortunately, the network only offers 3G speeds and that simply won't cut it for us. We needed something faster and we couldn't just accept that.

We couldn't accept the "puede na yan (that will do)" concept when it comes to the internet so we decided to look elsewhere for faster internet speed.


It so happens that there is a customer representative for Smart Communications where the wife is working. At the booth where the rep is situated is a banner that said the company now offers pocket wifi at LTE speeds. This got our blood pumping! LTE in the US is fast! (Actually, 3G in the US will enable you to stream YouTube without buffering... But I digress...) So if LTE is available in the Philippines, then that is something that may be able to suit our needs.

The person we spoke with was nice enough to answer our questions. We spoke for some 20 minutes, I think, and she never lost patience because of our questions, some of them mundane. (Take note that the wife and I were still just getting used to things back here in the Philippines.) The customer representative told us to get a Smart LTE sim first and test whether there is an LTE signal where we were staying. That was, I believed, a really sound advice. We really wanted the LTE pocket wifi but it will be for naught if there is no LTE signal in our place. 100 pesos is easier to cough up than 4800 pesos...

So, we got a Smart sim and put it in my iPhone 5s. Immediately we got an LTE signal where we live! Hurrah!!! We tested it by watching YouTube videos, by clicking on Facebook links, updating iOS apps and by making my iPhone a wifi hotspot.

Needless to say, the wife and I were greatly impressed with the LTE signal from Smart.

So we decided to get the Smart Bro "LTE".

For Php 4888, the Alcatel OneTouch pocket wifi for prepaid account has a very stiff price. However, the wife and I were willing to pay for the faster internet. Our order was placed and we only had to wait for a couple of days to get the device. (Coincidentally, I kept the LTE sim on my iPhone also. Yes, I was really impressed by the Smart LTE speed.)

When we got the device, the wife and I were surprised by the shape of the pocket wifi. We thought that, as in the banner, the device will be pebble shaped (it is still the device shown on Smart's website). Instead, what we got was a squarish device that has a curved front. It comes with an extra battery, a stand a USB cable, and the AC charger. The customer representative, a different one this time, had to call up his superior to confirm that the extra battery was really included. I didn't know why he ever doubted that considering that the box was still sealed...


Anyway, the device can be charged directly via the USB cable or with the stand. With use, the battery of the pocket wifi can last up to four hours. For such a small device, this pocket wifi can get surprisingly hot. So I try to ventilate it whenever I use it. In relation to this, I noticed that the device tends to reset whenever it got too hot. Maybe it's the device's way of preventing a complete meltdown...

Also, I notice that there is a need to reset the device whenever it loses a signal, say when you go underground at the MRT (a subway system here in the Philippines; or rather an “L”, like in Chicago). If this happens, you would need to switch the device off and then on again to get it to work. This need to reset when the signal is lost is not a good thing to have whenever you use the device for, say, turn-by-turn navigation...

But what about the thing that really mattered: actually surfing the internet?

The average surfing speed, as determined by the speed test app on my iPhone, is at 3 mbps. But this number really means nothing if you cannot watch your favorite YouTube video, or in my case, an animé episode. And the wife and I were able to watch videos together. On four different devices. At the same time. I was able to download a 5-gigabyte movie from iTunes, though the device becomes crippled when simultaneous downloads is allowed. But if iTunes downloads are done one after the other, then the pocket wifi works just fine.

Also, there was a time when I got a speed of 8mbps and I was really happy when that happened, though this was the exception, rather than the rule...

Now, you may ask about the "up to 42mbps" speed that Smart is claiming. Well, two things: one is the "up to" phrase. Smart did not say that you will get 42mbps all the time. And if you go to Smart's website, you will see that the "42mbps" claim has an asterisk next to it: the fine print states that you will only be able to get that speed "Where service is available". And it is highly improbable that it will be available! Why? Because that speed is a theoretical speed. In reality, what you will get are speeds that are in the single digits. That's it. (Note also the networks in the US also exaggerate their claims...)

Even in the US, our home broadband internet provider promised "up to 40mbps speeds" but I was only able to get actual speeds of up to 24mbps. (Boy, I can only dream of having that here...)

It might be some time before we get mobile internet speeds in the double digits...

What about uploads? Well, I am baffled why the networks here do not pay much attention to upload speeds. As a photographer and product reviewer, I oftentimes upload photos and YouTube videos. At sub-1mbps for uploads, I will have a really, really hard time uploading my materials for reviews...

As a final thought, after doing much research, I found out that, with this Alcatel OneTouch pocket wifi, you really cannot get true LTE speeds. You see, LTE is the more advanced, currently fastest internet speed available for mobile phones here in the Philippines. 4G is actually slower than LTE: you can say that 4G is actually just 3.5G... LTE is the true next generation internet speed for mobile phones. However, the frequency used by Smart for their LTE is at the 2100MHz band, whereas, after researching the specs of the Alcatel OneTouch, I found out that it uses the 2600MHz frequency for LTE. This means that you will be able to get 4G speeds with this device but you won't be able to get the more robust LTE frequency. As a result, I can get true LTE signal with my iPhone 5s, but I only get 4G speeds with the pocket wifi. I just wished that the ones in charged of choosing the devices for Smart read the specs first so that the consumers can have a more compatible device for the network.

But overall, I love the device, the wife loves the device. We both need the internet for work and for play, so having a network where you can actually work, chat, play and watch videos is a must.

The Smart Pocket Wifi from Alcatel provides this, now, very basic need.

#TheShyPhotographer highly recommends it.

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