Our NetZero Review
If you’re in a WiFi dead-zone, a 4G broadband device can be a good way to get connected to the Internet without draining your phone’s data plan. NetZero offers some of the lightest data packages available — it’s “free” plan caps at 200 MB per month, and its Basic and Plus plans cap at 500 MB and 1 GB, respectively. And while NetZero isn’t breaking any speed records with a download speeds up to 10 Mbps and an upload speeds up to 1 Mbps, it’s not the slowest provider either, and for these lower plans, NetZero’s prices are fairly competitive. That said, once you start using more data — anything upwards of 2 GB per month — NetZero tends to be much more expensive than competitors like AT&T and Verizon. While we weren’t thrilled that NetZero requires you to purchase a device to sign up, if you don’t have a compatible device, this one-time $80 cost would be cheaper than going with a rent-by-the-month option like that offered by AT&T ($20 per month).
|Price||$0.00 to $89.95 per month|
|In Business Since||1998|
|Best For||People who want to check their email or occasionally surf the Internet|
|Not For||People who stream videos, music, or use a lot of data|
|States and Territories Served||47 states and Puerto Rico|
NetZero’s biggest claim to fame? They offer a free 4G mobile broadband data plan. It gives you 200 Megabytes of data per month — enough to support either 1,000 text emails or visit 400 web pages (or some combination), according to Lifewire. You wouldn’t want to use this plan for TV streaming or listening to music; you’d only get 34 minutes into your show before being cut off, though it’s enough to listen to almost 4 hours of music. For higher data caps, you’ll need to go onto a paid plan.
Is it True?
Sort of. It’s true that the plan itself doesn’t cost anything, not even NetZero’s monthly access fee. But you are required to purchase a “NetZero Mobile Broadband device,” no matter which data plan you sign up for. The NetZero Hotspot is capable of acting as a mobile hotspot for multiple devices and comes with a one-year warranty, but it costs $79.95 plus a $20 one-time activation fee.
There is an opportunity for the claim to still be true, as if you’ve received a special offer, you might not be required to purchase the NetZero Hotspot, if you have a compatible device. They don’t provide a list of compatible devices, so you’ll need to test each device’s IMEI or serial number to see if it can connect to NetZero’s network.
You should also be aware that if you sign up for the free plan, your policy will only last for at most twelve months from the date you sign up. After that, you’ll either need to choose to upgrade to a paid plan or end your service. And if you’ve chosen to upgrade your plan part way through the year — maybe you need a higher data cap for only one month as you go on a trip – you won’t be able to downgrade your account back down to the free service. It ends once you’ve reached twelve months or you’ve upgraded your account, whichever comes first.
That said, even if you end up purchasing the NetZero Hotspot, the device’s plus the activation fee only amounts to $100. That’s essentially paying $8.34 per month for your 200 MB plan. If you’re still working out how much internet you need, NetZero can be a good way to test the waters of how much data you actually use.
A Closer Look at Features
In addition to their advertised Free plan, NetZero offers six paid plans. While NetZero doesn’t specify the download and upload speeds you’ll receive at each service tier, a third-party website suggests that your offer will include up to 10 Mbps download, and up to 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. According to SpeedTest.com, a site which aggregates how the experienced speeds customers receive from their internet service provider (ISP), a download speed of 5 Mbps should allow you to use your phone or tablet as expected — it “should be fast enough to stream HD movies without buffering,” use social media, and access most websites.
|Plan||Monthly Price of Plan||Monthly Data|
|Platinum Plus||$89.95||6 GB|
Customers should note that in addition to purchasing a device ($80), and paying the one-time activation fee for the device ($20), they will be charged a monthly access fee of $3.95 for all plans except the Free plan.
The NetZero Hotspot
Currently, the only device NetZero offers to connect you to the internet is its HotSpot. In addition to its micro-USB charger, the HotSpot is capable of connecting to your devices through a USB tether — so you don’t have to broadcast over WiFi if you want a more reliable, wired connection.
NetZero advertises that the Hotspot can simultaneously connect between five and ten devices to WiFi, depending on the model you buy. We weren’t impressed that there is only one model available, and it’s only available refurbished. (In case you’re wondering, they don’t specify if the model available is the one that supports five users, or ten.)
You can transfer your NetZero account to another compatible device, but you’ll need to individually search for your device in the Bring Your Own Device toolkit before knowing whether it’s compatible or not. Unfortunately, they don’t provide a list of sample devices, and their toolkit requires an IMEI or MEID identifier — a number that is unique to each tablet, mobile hotstpot, or USB modem. Shopping around for a replacement also means finding a store with a good return or exchange policy as you hunt around for a device compatible with NetZero.
- AT&T: AT&T holds a slight edge over NetZero. Their download speeds are slightly faster (a maximum 12 Mbps instead of a maximum 10 Mbps), and they don’t require you to purchase a device — though you can rent one for $20 per month. NetZero is the more economical option, but only at the lower service tiers. As soon as you go above 2 GB of data per month, however, AT&T becomes the better choice, especially if you need a lot of data. Both AT&T’s and NetZero’s highest service tiers cost $90, but NetZero’s comes with a 6 GB data cap — and AT&T’s plan offers unlimited data.
- FreedomPop: Both FreedomPop and NetZero offer a free mobile data plan (you’ll still have to pay for any device you acquire through FreedomPop), and have similar data caps for their plans. FreedomPop’s plans have the advantage of being significantly cheaper — anywhere from $7 to $30 less for the same data cap as NetZero — but that’s in exchange for a reduced download speed. NetZero reportedly clocks in at 10 Mbps, while FreedomPop caps at 5 Mbps. Unlike NetZero, however, FreedomPop also offers data rollover plans ($3.99 to $6.99 per month). There are some restrictions, but this allows you to roll over any unused data to the new month.
- Verizon: Verizon remains one of the best companies for 4g broadband wireless, with reliably fast speeds (12 Mbps) and high customer satisfaction ratings. On the other hand, on customer satisfaction surveys NetZero either doesn’t make the the top ten, or isn’t mentioned at all. Verizon’s lowest plan is 2 GB per month for $35, which beats out NetZero’s plan for speed and price ($42.95). But if 2 GB is too much data, you might be better off either NetZero’s Basic or Plus plans.
The Bottom Line
If NetZero is available in your area, it’s always worth comparing its plans to that of the other internet service providers in your area, particularly if you only use mobile data occasionally, or don’t need it to stream music or movies. While it’s a decent option for lighter plans, NetZero’s higher service tiers are typically outpriced for the data and speeds they offer.