Half the best features of tablets disappear when they don’t have a connection to the Internet. Having Wi-Fi at your home, office, and/or school is all very well, but it’s great to have something that works everywhere.
A good option for some is the Huawei Mobile WiFi E5220, which can turn a GSM/GPRS/EDGE/HSPA+ cellular-wireless data connection into a Wi-Fi network.
Build & Design
At 3.5 x 0.5 x 2.2 inches and 2.4 ounces, this accessory is relatively small with rounded corners, which makes it convenient to carry. That’s important, as you’re going to want to bring it with you almost everywhere.
The Power Button is located on the front, along with a series of simple indicators for cellular-wireless connection, Wi-Fi activated, battery level, and SMS messages. These are “idiot lights” so, for example, the network signal indicator doesn’t show you how many bars you have, but is green when signal is good, orange when it’s weak, and red when it’s bad.
These are easily readable indoors, but are so dim it’s something of a challenge to see them out of doors.
There’s a micro-USB port on one side used to charge the E5220. This can also be be used to hook the accessory to a PC where it can give a desktop or laptop a non-Wi-Fi internet connection.
The back is removable so a SIM card can be inserted. This also gives you access to the swappable battery.
The Mobile WiFi E5220 works with GSM networks, so carriers like Verizon and Sprint are not supported. For this review it was tested with AT&T.
Specifically, it offers HSPA+, HSPA, and UMTS at 2100Mhz and 900Mhz, as well as EDGE, GPRS, and GSM at 850Mhz, 900Mhz, 1800Mhz, and 1900Mhz, and the unlocked version can be used with any carrier that offers these serivices and frequencies. There is no support for LTE.
Up to 10 different devices can connect simultaneously over Wi-Fi b/g/n.
Huawei makes an iOS and an Android app for the E5220, which gives the user access to essential settings like SSID and passwords. These can also give a very accurate readout of the battery status signal strength (in bars), and how much data has been uploaded/downloaded.
In addition, the accessory has an HTML interface that can be accessed through a web browser by the users who are connected to to it over Wi-Fi. This has virtually all of the features of the apps, plus it enables users to send and receive text messages.
When judging the performance of the Huawei Mobile WiFi E5220, it’s important to compare the device to real-world numbers. Theoretically, the fastest download speed offered by AT&T’s HSPA+ network is 21.6 Mbps, while the fastest upload speed supported is 5.76 Mbps, but these are numbers seen only in AT&T’s own laboratories. Tests with a variety of smartphones and other access points in the real world show that realistic figures for AT&T’s HSPA+ network are closer to 5Mbps for downloads, while uploads run at about 1Mbps.
In our tests of Huawei’s accessory conducted with Ookla Speedtest, the average download speed with the E5220 while out of doors was 5.8Mbps, and upload was 1.3Mbps. When the device was tested inside our lab, the walls and ceiling dropped the average download speed to 4.9Mbps and upload speed to 1.0Mbps.
Here’s where the only real flaw in this device crops up: it does not support LTE. This is unfortunate because, by and large, LTE networks are significantly faster than HSPA+ ones. On the other hand, global LTE networks have yet to mature and there are loads of slightly different versions. It’s unlikely Huawei could havve made a mobile access point that could connect to all of them.
Aside from no support for LTE, the mobile access point seems to be performing as well as anyone could reasonably expect. Even without LTE, in areas with good wireless service, it’s quite capable of providing enough bandwidth for video streaming services like Netflix. Web pages are downloaded quickly enough that there’s no frustration.
In our Wi-Fi tests, we found that the E5220 was able to provide a good, strong connection when located 50 yards away from our test tablet, even through a brick wall. It was easily able to provide service to an entire residence.
The E5220 supports fast boot, and can start up and be ready to go in under 10 seconds. This is very handy when if you just have a minute or two to check you email on your tablet.
Huawei says this product is good for 4 hours of continuous use. Our tests found that to be an accurate estimation. It varies quite bit depending on number of people connected, amount of data being downloaded/uploaded, etc.
While the battery is swappable, extra ones are not easily available. Users who want to go a full day using the E5220 will either need to plug it in while in use, or employ some kind of external battery.
There is a battery-saving mode that can disconnect from the Internet if no one is using it — how long the device waits is user configurable.
The Huawei Mobile WiFi E5220 has just about everything you could ask for in a cellular-to-Wi-Fi access point: it’s small and light while also offering better-than-average performance.
Support for LTE and a longer battery life would have made it nearly perfect, but at least that latter issue is something that can be handled with an external battery.
Its price ranges quite a bit, from $65 to $90 — Even at the high end that’s a reasonable amount to pay for something so useful.