ZTE Warp Connect (Sprint) Review (2023)

Sprint's network performance has improved quite a lot over the past six months, but its hotspot lineup is at a dead calm. While its speeds are on the rise, it joins T-Mobile in having no dedicated mobile hotspots we can enthusiastically recommend. The ZTE Warp Connect ($144, or free with a two-year contract) isn't capable of hitting Sprint's highest speeds, but neither are the Franklin R850 or R910, the carrier's other options. At least the Warp Connect has an external antenna jack, which puts it slightly ahead of the pack.

Design and Features

The ZTE Warp Connect is a white plastic hotspot, measuring 4.6 by 2.6 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and 3.9 ounces. It has an unattractive non-touch display on the front that shows signal strength, battery life, and number of devices connected. There are two buttons on the bottom, a micro USB port on the top, and two external antenna portsan excellent feature that lets you dramatically boost signal. You can add any antenna which has dual TS9 connectors; there are a lot of them for $20 or so on Amazon.

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If you tap the power button, you go through some menus that show you the Wi-Fi SSID and password on the display. To change it, you have to go to the hotspot's web interface. The web interface also shows your data usageyou can't get that info on the device's screen.

The hotspot supports MAC filtering, port mapping and filtering, and UPNP. It can connect up to 10 devices. You can also use it as a USB modemif you plug it in to a Mac, Windows, or Linux machine, it pops up a window with installable drivers.

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The 2,300mAh battery is sealed in, and lasted for 7 hours, 9 minutes of LTE streaming, which is decent. That's not quite up to the R850, which lasted over eight hours, and the R910 will probably have even longer life on its 3,000mAh battery.

Service Plans

Sprint's hotspot service plans are the best in the business at the moment. For $55 per month ($70 if you don't have another line of Sprint service), you get unlimited data, albeit with a number of caveats: video streams are limited to standard definition, music to 500Kbps, gaming to 2Mbps, and you're deprioritized after 23GB in general. That said, this is a plan that you can actually use for primary home internet access, if you're not picky about speeds.

You can also get uncapped, unthrottled data at $35 for 10GB, which is an even better deal than Boost used to offer for the R850. T-Mobile charges $50 for 10GB right now; AT&T and Verizon charge $60.

That unlimited-LTE hotspot plan is only available for dedicated hotspots like this. If you're using hotspot mode on a phone, you get 10GB of hotspot usage on your unlimited line, after which you're slowed to 2G speeds.

Stuck in the Slow Lane

The Warp Connect's problem, the same as Sprint's other hotspots, is that it uses an older LTE Category 4 modem, where the carrier's network now supports much faster devices. Sprint now relies on three-channel aggregation of 20MHz, LTE Band 41 channels with 256QAM encoding to get the best speeds. The Snapdragon X5 modem used in these hotspots has no carrier aggregation, and only 64QAM encoding on a single 20MHz channel. The device also lacks high performance user equipment (HPUE), which extends the reach of Sprint's high-frequency Band 41 spectrum.

The hotspot supports LTE bands 25, 26, and 41, plus 2, 4, 5, and 12 for where Sprint has roaming agreements in the US. Sprint does not offer affordable international roaming on dedicated hotspots. There's no 3G support here, but Sprint's 3G is painfully slow anyway.

We compared the Warp Connect with an LG V30+, which has all of Sprint's latest technologies. The Warp Connect got 1.66Mbps down compared with 4.12Mbps on the V30+ in weak signal, and 26.94Mbps to the phone's 24.42Mbps in decent coverage.

The Warp Connect's weaknesses really appeared in strong-signal locations where I got between 56 and 133Mbps down with the LG V30+. Now, if you've never seen those speeds on Sprint, it may be because you don't have a device with the latest modem capabilities. The Warp Connect never topped 41Mbps, and that was in a location where the V30+ was scoring 125Mbps. It's like the Warp Connect just hit a ceiling, and that ceiling is much lower than Sprint's actual ceiling.

The Warp Connect's limited Wi-Fi capabilities don't win it any favors, either. There's no 5GHz Wi-Fi, which reduces range and slows things down in crowded Wi-Fi locations.

Testing the Wi-Fi down a long hallway, I first found that my speeds dropped from 52Mbps to 27Mbps by switching from the V30+ to the hotspot, due to the hotspot's modem. Speeds then dropped to 11Mbps at 25 feet from the hotspot; 6Mbps at 50 feet; and 2.5Mbps at 75 feet.

Best of the Bunch

There are no ideal choices for hotspot use on Sprint. The carrier's dedicated hotspots get access to a special $55, unlimited-LTE plan that's perfect for RVers, second home owners, and other people who need unlimited on the go. But the plan and the hardware both compromise your speeds.

Using a good Sprint phone, like the Samsung Galaxy S8 or LG V30+, in hotspot mode will get you better LTE speeds, but you'll get cut off hard at 10GB, with super-slow speeds beyond that. The R910 hotspot has a bigger battery at 3,000mAh, but it doesn't have external antenna ports.

The ZTE Warp Connect's external antenna ports make it the best of the three admittedly lackluster hotspots on Sprint. At least you can attach an antenna and squeeze the best possible signal out of the weak modem. But I'd really like to see an option that takes advantage of the speeds Sprint is capable of.

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See It$49.99 at Boost Mobile(Opens in a new window)

MSRP $144.00

Pros

  • Excellent service plans.

  • External antenna jack.

Cons

  • Slow modem means slow speeds.

  • No 5GHz Wi-Fi.

  • No data usage on front display.

The Bottom Line

The ZTE Warp Connect is the best of Sprint's unimpressive hotspot selection thanks to its external antenna port.

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