NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband Review

A good variety of data plans for light internet users ​
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Philip Palermo

By Philip Palermo Lead Senior Editor – For the Home

Philip Palermo leads the For the Home category at Reviews.com, including smart home and home security services. Since November 2015, he’s worn a number of hats at Reviews.com, but these days, Philip helps manage the day-to-day editorial content workflow. He’s worked at Engadget, The Unofficial Apple Weblog, Big Think, and several local/regional newspapers. Philip’s also been known to use a lot of spreadsheets to gauge how much value he’s getting out of his various services and subscriptions.

NetZero Review

NetZero offers some of the lightest data packages available — its free plan caps at 200 MB per month, and its Basic and Plus plans cap at 1 GB and 2 GB, respectively. While NetZero isn’t breaking any speed records with download speeds up to 10 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 anything upward of 4 GB per month, NetZero tends to be more expensive than competitors like AT&T and Verizon. NetZero also requires you to purchase a device to sign up if you don’t have a compatible device, though this one-time cost would be cheaper than going with a rent-by-the-month option like that offered by others.

The Claim

NetZero claims to offer a free 4G mobile broadband data plan that includes 200 MB of data per month.

Is it true?

Yes, but there are a few catches. 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 hotspot no matter which data plan you sign up for. The NetZero hotspot can host multiple devices and comes with a one-year warranty, but it costs $60 plus a $20 one-time activation fee. You might not be required to purchase the NetZero hotspot if you have a compatible device, but the website doesn’t list 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.

Another catch: NetZero’s free plan is only free for 12 months. After a year of service, you either have to cancel your account or upgrade to a paid plan. Ultimately, NetZero is best as a short-term solution. Once your year is up, it might be best to consider other providers.

Product Overview

Best for

People who want to check their email or occasionally surf the internet

Not for

People who stream videos and music or use a lot of data

Features

Estimated speeds

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 Consumer Reports, a site that conducts independent market research, 8 Mbps seems to be the most ideal download speed for activities such as streaming in HD.

NetZero hotspot

Currently, the 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 5 to 10 devices to WiFi, depending on the model you buy.

No annual contract

One of NetZero’s major features is that it doesn’t require an annual contract. You can cancel at any time or upgrade to a different plan if you need more data. This is huge, considering some of the major carriers still require lengthy contracts and charge early termination fees if you try to cancel before the contract period ends. NetZero’s lack of a contract ensures that you won’t be surprised by early termination fees if you decide to end service.

Possible drawbacks

Upfront costs

While NetZero’s Free plan is free month-to-month, it’s not free to sign up. NetZero requires you to purchase its $60 hotspot when signing up for any of its plans. You’ll also have to pay a $20 activation fee, so expect to pay a little less than $100 with the Free plan. Additionally, there’s only one hotspot model available, which is only available refurbished.

Free plan expires

Unlike FreedomPop’s free data plan, which stays free for the entirety of your service, NetZero’s Free plan ends after 12 months. This means you either have to end your plan or upgrade to one of its paid plans. While this might be fine if you only need free 4G broadband service for a short time, it can be a hassle for those who depend on free 4G mobile access.

Complicated Bring Your Own Device policy

While it’s possible to transfer your NetZero account to a different device, we didn’t find this to be simple. 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, it doesn’t provide a list of sample devices, and its toolkit requires an IMEI or MEID identifier — a number that is unique to each tablet, mobile hotspot, 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.

The Competition

Note: Since NetZero only has a hotspot, the above chart only compares data plans.

NetZero vs. AT&T

When it comes to speed, AT&T holds an edge over NetZero. Its download speeds are slightly faster (up to 12 Mbps instead of a maximum 10 Mbps). NetZero is the more economical option, but only at the lower service tiers. As soon as you go above 4 GB of data per month, AT&T becomes the better choice, especially if you need a lot of data. NetZero’s highest service tier costs over $30 more than AT&T’s. It also comes with an 8 GB data cap — and AT&T’s plan offers unlimited data.

NetZero vs. 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, but that’s in exchange for a reduced download speed. NetZero clocks in at 10 Mbps, while FreedomPop caps at 5 Mbps. Unlike NetZero, however, FreedomPop also offers add-ons like data rollover plans ($4 to $7 per month). There are some restrictions, but this allows you to roll over any unused data to the new month. It also offers speed boosts, which increases speeds up to 25 Mbps for an additional monthly fee — so ultimately FreedomPop’s speeds can be faster than NetZero’s if you’re fine with paying a little extra.

NetZero vs. Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless remains one of the best companies for 4G broadband wireless, with reliably fast speeds (12 Mbps) and high customer satisfaction ratings. When it comes to customer satisfaction surveys, NetZero either doesn’t make the the top 10 or isn’t mentioned at all. That being said, NetZero’s 2 GB plan comes in cheaper than Verizon’s lowest 2 GB-per-month plan. If 2 GB is too much data, you might be better off with either NetZero’s Basic or Free plans.

The Bottom Line

If NetZero is available in your area, it’s always worth comparing its plans to other wireless 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. If you need more data, consider looking at other broadband providers like AT&T or Verizon.