After a long delay, my Karma Go 4G LTE wireless hotspot finally arrived. I was bemused to open the envelope and find it packaged in a resealable plastic pouch not too different from the pouches my Soylent meal drink comes in. Had I purchased a batch of “Instant Karma”?
Happily, when I tore open the envelope, I found a nice bundle of everything I needed to get me started: the device itself, a nice heavy felt case for it, a custom USB connection cable, leaflets with legal information and quick-start instructions, and even a sheet of four Karma logo decals that I could put on something that might need decorating.
The instructions were simple enough, and the device actually seemed to be mostly charged already. Just in case, I plugged it in to power up for a while, while I examined the rest of the stuff.
The felt case is going to be nice to have. My first MiFi had a cloth case, but it wasn’t nearly this nice. I can tell this one will protect the hotspot well. I’m not sure what I might put the decals on, but I expect it will be nice to have them just in case I should decide I need them.
The custom USB cable has one of those “naked” plugs that fits into a standard USB slot without having the metal collar, though Karma notes that regular micro-USB cables can be used as well. As a nice touch, its ends are magnetic so they stick to each other when you have the cable wrapped up and stuck through the plastic clip that attaches to it. Karma has an instructional. video illustrating its use:
When I was ready, I powered on the device and prepared to connect. In honor of the essay I wrote all the way back in 2010 about using hotspots to retrofit cellular Internet connectivity to WiFi e-readers, I opted to connect my Kindle Touch to it first. Since the Karma uses a login screen, I was curious whether the Kindle would work. It turned out there was no problem; the Kindle’s built-in web browser noticed there was a login screen and popped it right up, just like it would at any Starbucks or other location with a captive portal. I was able to use the Kindle’s touch-sensitive screen to enter my username and password, and it passed me right on through.
On the login page, Karma prompted me to install its Android or iOS app. This I did, with my smartphone and tablet, and was fairly impressed by what I found. The Karma app monitors who’s logged into your hotspot, gives you an easy way to check your hotspot’s battery life, and also lets you track your data usage by day or hour.
When I ran Ookla’s Internet Speedtest app on my tablet, the Karma clocked in at about 18 MBPS downstream, 13 MBPS up. That’s better than my Brighthouse landline Internet, which measured 16 and 2, and it’s certainly fast enough to stream music or even video—something you just couldn’t do with a 3G MiFi.
The final test was to take it out and about to see how it worked in the field. This I did on a quick trip down to the local drugstore. It kept my tablet hooked up all the way, and I was able to play Ingress without noticing any significant latency or speed-related issues.
Of course, this all happens when I’m using the Karma by myself. One of the big features of the Karma service is that any Karma member can use your hotspot simply by logging into their own Karma account through it, and any non-member can sign up instantly and get 100 megabytes free. It doesn’t cost you data—they use from their own allotment—but it may slow your data rate down if they use it for heavy downloading or streaming. But then, at 18/13 megabits per second, it’s possible you might not even notice. Plus, if someone signs up through your device, you’ll get an extra 100 megabytes of data added onto your account.
That being the case, you have a relatively limited range of network names you can switch your device to. It starts out as “Karma WiFi,” but you can change it to “[First Name]’s Karma,” “Free Karma by [First Name],” or “Free WiFi by Karma,” from the dashboard of your Karma account, where “[First Name]” is the first name associated with your account.
Possibly the more serious issue is that, as an open-to-the-public hotspot, it doesn’t use the sort of encryption you will find in a hotspot where you have to connect with a password. Of course, most web sites that handle sensitive information these days encrypt their connections so they can be used safely even over a public network, but anything sent in the clear could be sniffed. If you want to make sure your data is completely private, you’ll need to use a VPN service—but then, this is true for any public WiFi hotspot that doesn’t have a password, so it’s not as if your information is any less secure than in a Starbucks.
It seems like a reasonable tradeoff for 4G pay-as-you-go, no-contract-required Internet at reasonable rates. Karma’s rates start at $14 for 1 GB, then go up to $59 for 5 GB (that’s $12 each) or $99 for 10 GB ($10 each). They offered a promotion where people could buy 10 GB and get 10 GB more free, so I should be set for a good long while. (Plus, since I get $10 credit each time someone uses my affiliate referral link to save $10 on their own Karma. I’m not going to be paying for mobile Internet service for quite some time even after I use that up.) The funny thing is, that’s actually considerably cheaper than data on my Republic Wireless smartphone plan, which is $15 per gig. So I can simply keep my phone’s WiFi hooked to my Karma hotspot and save some money.
Anyway, I’m happy with my new Karma Go, and I can tell it will be really useful for mobile Internet connectivity.