As we head into SXSW, we're taking a look at new tech innovations that transforming the way we travel. First up were Google's Pixel Buds. Next: Skyroam Solis and Roaming Man, two of the most versatile WiFi hotspots on the market. Here's how they stack up.
When we reviewed the original Skyroam, the verdict was clear: The portable WiFi hotspot is a great alternative to SIM cards and monthly data plans. How does it work? By delivering virtual local SIMs from their proprietary data network of nearly 200 operators around the world, allowing users to access the internet while traveling without using a local SIM.
The latest version, Skyroam Solis, functions the same way with some nice upgrades. Its 4G LTE internet is faster than the original and can be used by up to five devices at the same time in more than 120 countries. The device also works as a power bank, charging gadgets with a USB-C connection, and lasts longer, roughly sixteen hours on one charge.
It costs $149.99 for the unit, plus $9 per day passes for unlimited WiFi for 24 hours at a time. Users buy and activate passes on an online capture page that loads when connected to the hotspot, which also displays battery life and signal strength. The device can also be rented for $11.90 a day — a $1.95 upgrade over the original, which is still available for rent.
Per popular demand, Skyroam also has a subscription service offering unlimited, 30-day internet for $99 per month.
Roaming Man functions much like Skyroam. The hotspot, which took off in Asia before hitting the American market, provides unlimited 4G internet in more than 100 countries for $9.99 a day and also functions as a power bank.
The main difference, aside from countries covered (fewer) and design (a bit more pocket-friendly than the Solis), is that it's only available to rent. Enter your travel dates on the website, and the device will be delivered to you with internet preloaded for the days of your trip. When you're finished using it, ship it back in the prepaid envelope provided. The upside: You're not buying a pricey hotspot. The downside: If you use the hotspot frequently, you won’t be happy with the shipping fees.
I tested the devices on a trip to Sydney, Singapore, and Hanoi, and both worked smoothly, handling a day’s worth of searching, navigating, and Instagramming from three smartphones at the same time with ease. Internet speeds were comparable. Differences were minimal. Skyroam Solis' battery life was slightly better than Roaming Man's, but its capture page gave me trouble a few times — it kept stalling at 99 percent when I was trying to activate day passes.
Other than that, my only other qualm with both devices was throttling. After using 500mb in a day, internet slowed to between 3G and 2G speeds, which meant I had to exercise patience when loading certain pages, especially video, which I didn't do much of anyway. That’s what hotel room WiFi is for.
It's hard to pick a clear winner, as both hotspots performed very similarly. Choosing one comes down to how often you plan on using the device and where you’re going. If you're always traveling, purchasing Skyroam Solis and signing up for the monthly subscription makes sense. If you need a hotspot for one or two big trips a year, renting is a better option. If you're traveling to Africa, Roaming Man currently has better and is a less expensive rental overall.
If you’d rather not bother with an extra gadget, you can opt for one of those attractive data plans that are now available from many service providers. Just beware: You’ll most likely have to pay a premium for faster speeds or additional data.