Karma Go mobile hotspot review

As anyone who has had a smartphone for any length of time knows, dealing with a mobile carrier and buying data is a pain. No matter what the situation is you always feel like you're getting the short end of the deal (spoiler: you are) — and even when you find a plan that you think is right for you, that might not be the case a month or two down the road. The choices are even slimmer when it comes to hotspots, where the prices per gigabyte of data are cost-prohibitive, and you have few options for plans.

Early last year, the Karma hotspot came on the scene to try and break away from the standard model of monthly plans and yearly contracts for hotspots, going purely on a pay-as-you-go system. We loved the flexibility and business model of the Karma for those who only need a hotspot from time to time, but it was hamstrung by Sprint's aging WiMax network.

But after a little stumble, the new Karma Go is here with better hardware, the same great usage model and yes, a proper LTE network behind it. Here's our full review of Karma's second shot at a hotspot — read on.

Karma hotspot website

My hotspot is your hotspot

How the Karma Go works

Though a good number of people have probably heard of the Karma hotspot, not many have likely used one before. For that reason I need to kick off this review by explaining just how Karma works.

Rather than going to get a hotspot from your current phone carrier and tossing it on its own data plan or even a shared data plan, or maybe going to a traditional monthly prepaid carrier for a hotspot, you buy the hardware directly from Karma for $149 ($99 if you bought the original Karma). There's just one hotspot option, and there isn't a monthly plan associated with the hotspot — you simply buy data in 1, 5 or 10GB increments, and when it runs out, you can choose to buy more. The data never expires, and it's tied to your account, not the hotspot — so you can connect to another Karma Go in the wild and use the data you paid for.

That points out a big divergence of how the Karma Go works compared to other hotspots out there. Rather than having a customizable name and password for logging into your hotspot, every Karma Go is actually open to anyone who wants to connect. When you connect to your Karma Go (or any other you come across in the wild), you'll get a simple splash page in your browser where you log into your Karma account to start accessing the data you paid for. Once you've signed into your own Karma Go on your devices, they'll automatically connect going forward as well.

A different way to look at owning a mobile hotspot.

When other people connect to your Karma Go, they can log in to or create a new Karma account, and when they do so you both get a free 100MB of data to use. Again, the data is tied to your account, not the hotspot, and everyone's traffic is kept completely separate — once they run out of their data, they don't start eating into yours. The Karma Go also supports up to eight simultaneous users, so there's no real downside to letting someone else on.

It's definitely not a "traditional" system, but it isn't super hard to understand, either. Now let's move on to what it's like actually using a Karma Go.

Karma Go mobile hotspot

A hotspot, without all the baggage

Using the Karma Go

The Karma Go looks and works very similarly to the original Karma, and that means simplicity is the name of the game. The hotspot is actually rather small, because it only has one button, one port and five LEDs on the front for status notification. There's no display or complex interaction with the hotspot — you just press and hold the button on the side to turn it on or off, and when it's on you'll get an idea of its battery life from one multi-colored LED and the signal strength from three more.

You get a very nice little protective pouch to keep your Karma Go safe when it's bouncing around in your bag or coat pocket, as well as a very neat little Micro USB charging cable that has a latch to keep it from getting tangled and has magnetized ends that stick together when not in use.

The Karma Go is surprisingly small, and dead simple to use.

The Karma Go powers up and finds a mobile network quickly, and though it's small it offers a quoted five hours of constant internet use (far more with sporadic or low-bandwidth use) and 220 hours of standby time out of its 1550 mAh battery. Because of that long standby time the Karma Go actually only drops to a standby mode by default when you press and hold the power button from an on state, and you can tell it's still idling by the slowly-pulsing white LED on the front. If you won't be using it for a long time, you can do a very long press on the power button to turn it off completely, though I never really found the need to do so.

The Karma Go runs on the Sprint LTE network (with a 3G backup), and while it's dramatically better than the WiMax network of the previous Karma it isn't going to be the best choice for everyone. Only you know if the Sprint network is good where you live, work and travel, and while Sprint doesn't have the biggest LTE network footprint it is expanding regularly. Around the greater Seattle area Sprint is pretty good nowadays, and I would get download speeds around 10-15mbps with uploads landing in the 5mbps range. That's about what I expect from a Sprint phone in this area, so it seemed to be right on par. Going further out into more rural areas the Karma Go held a signal on 3G, which was better than my T-Mobile phone could offer me (which was only GPRS) but obviously wasn't too speedy.

Karma Go hotspot app

You need to relinquish some control, but it all works as advertised.

Though it has nothing more than a few LEDs on the front for status notification, you can perform all of the necessary functions of the Karma Go from the companion app for Android (opens in new tab) or iOS (opens in new tab). The app shows your current battery and network strength, who's connected to it, and your data usage by month, day or even hour. You can get notifications on your phone when you're getting low on data or battery, and when someone joins your Karma Go. You can also instantly pay for more data if you need to on the go. I wish it had an option to view exact signal strength and battery percentage, but considering the ease-of-use angle Karma Go is aimed at, I can't be too upset those more advanced features are missing.

As I noted above, you buy non-expiring one-time-use data in increments of 1, 5 or 10GB for use with the Karma Go. Data is a tad more expensive per gigabyte than you'll pay on a monthly recurring plan, but the fact that it never expires is baked into that price. 1GB is $14, but if you bundle up 5GB for $59 ($11.80/GB) or 10GB for $99 ($9.90/GB) you get a better deal. Karma also often runs sales when you can stock up on data, and of course if you happen to share your hotspot often those 100MB bonuses add up, too.

The standard interaction with Karma Go is really great, and it just works every single time you turn it on. No configuration, no fidgeting — power it up, connect your phone, tablet or laptop and go. It feels more like an appliance rather than a gadget that you feel like you need to manage and control, and for most people that's a plus. For the avid mobile device enthusiast it may be tough to give up some control, but I think even that type of user (I'd put myself in that camp) can learn to relinquish some control and just use the Karma Go as it was intended.

Karma Go mobile hotspot

Awesome idea, but not perfect

Karma Go hotspot Bottom line

The Karma Go is a super interesting take on the traditional model of buying a mobile hotspot. It helps you break away from the shackles of having yet another device tied to your phone carrier, and gives you another choice for mobile data redundancy, travel and skipping over potentially unsafe public Wifi. The hotspot is easy to setup, use and manage, and the data pricing is fair for what you get considering you don't have a recurring monthly charge.

Though the model is interesting and works as advertised, that doesn't mean it's without potential flaws. Not being able to control who connects to the hotspot isn't a real issue for most, but is bothersome if you want to completely manage what's happening with your hotspot for data speed and battery reasons. It also means you can't easily share your Karma Go with friends by just giving them a password, leaving you to instead ask them to sign up for a Karma account to get a free 100MB of data to use.

Karma Go is a solid choice if you need a backup connection with a carrier other than what your phone uses, which can be a must for those who need Internet at all times. This is also a great hotspot for those who spend lots of time out of the country, or are even from another country but visit the U.S., and don't want to pay every month for service. It's also worth considering if you're just tired of paying a flat monthly rate for data and don't want to keep hunting for public Wifi hotspots.

With a few tweaks, Karma Go could be a great hotspot option for even more people, but as it stands it still serves its purpose well and should be considered by plenty of folks who are looking to pick up a mobile hotspot. And at $149 with competitive data rates, the barriers to giving it a try are relatively low. Just make sure you understand how it all works before you sign up, and you won't be disappointed.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I have it and it's very helpful
    The best time to buy the data is when you get the email about buy 1 & get 1 free.
  • What happens when a bunch of ppl jump on your karma? Does the network get congested or does the karma have a limited number of available connections as to keep data flowing at high speeds? The panda has spoken
  • The hotspot is limited to 8 total users. Presumably it's going to prioritize letting you sign into your own, but even when keeping this thing on in public for several weeks (including the old model), I never had more than 3 people on it at any time. But of course like any other hotspot if you get ~8 people on it, it's going to be a little short on resources to hand around. Which as I said is one of the issues here ... if you just have to control it yourself and don't want to have random people hopping on and potentially hurting the speeds even just a little bit, this isn't the right hotspot for you.
  • Mine finally shipped last month and I love it. This pass weekend I was able to get 3 signups. Pretty exciting to get free data. I had ordered it last year with a coupon so I was able to get it for less than $100. I only buy data on double deals.
  • Does anyone know if there's a hotspot device thats unlocked and works on at&t and T-Mobile? Just stick in your sim card and go? Posted via the Android Central App
  • No specific models... but it's not tough to find a GSM/LTE unlocked hotspot with the right bands for ATT and T-Mobile. Even just browsing Amazon you can find 'em.
  • I have a Karma Go for free and unlimited data for several years, but I haven't used it much. It's a very nice backup device and I don't leave home without it in my work bag, but so far it hasn't benefited me that much. Posted from my Asus ZenFone 2.
  • Is it tri-band? And if so, does it support B41 carrier aggregation?
  • It is triband. Not sure on the CA. Sadly no 800 LTE in Seattle. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Or I could just use my free Verizon hotspot Posted via the Android Central App
  • I love the concept.. mostly. Not entirely keen on Sprint only. And not sure how I feel about sharing the hotspot. But the pricing model I very much can get behind.
  • I know the article mentioned that skipping over potentially unsafe public WiFi was a plus for this - does that mean there aren't security concerns if other people hop on to my hotspot? Is there a way for others to see what I am doing, and get passwords, bank information, etc? I apologize that I am not a security expert, but wanted to ask the question. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I am going to GUESS that it imposes 'client isolation' which would prevent one user from seeing any other user on the network. Of course, that could work against you if you want to access resources on another device as well. The bigger issue is if the OTA interface in un-encrypted which it looks like it is. That would be a non-starter for many.
  • Not only would someone have to break the client isolation they would have to decrypt SSL. All that stuff passwords and bank info is all going to be transmitted via the browser over SSL. So not any worse than using a public hotspot. Plus you can setup a VPN server at home and that would add another layer of security.
  • Is there a limit on how many of your own or family devices that can be connected at the same time?
  • Limit of 8 total devices per hotspot, that's it.
  • So, I notice the link takes me to your invite page. If I sign up at your link do you get some sort of reward? If so, shouldn't that have been mentioned in the article somewhere? (Forgive me if I missed it) Otherwise, great review. I've been thinking about one of these since their WiMax days and you've finally convinced me!
  • freedompop is another option, uses sprint and 500mb free per month... No friends needed....but you want you can add friends and get free mb Posted via the Android Central App
  • I was really interested in buying one then I saw that it runs on Sprint network. Sprint does not work in the town I live it. Kinda sad now ): Posted via Android Central App
  • I've been using the Karma Go as an early adopter. It's great, but you really should have focused a bit more on those downsides to the device. Five hours of battery life verges on lying. My Karma gets 3 hours of battery life at best during typical usage. That's using it to check my RSS feeds and short hops with the GPS, and whatever timed checks my phone makes for e-mails and texts. I've been able to squeeze a little bit more time out of it when I'm away from people trying to connect to me, but I REALLY wish I could choose when to give Karma and when to keep it greedily to myself so I can enjoy a day out with my friends without also carrying around a charge station. That is also the reason I can't recommend this device to my mom and dad, both of whom are super interested in cutting their cell phone bill out of their lives and going data only. You can't drive around the state doing business with only 2.5 hours of cell phone battery allowance per day, at least not without constantly worrying about when you can next get to your home or car USB charger (The device takes 4 hours to charge from empty). And again, the worst part about the Karma is I can't use it to help friends in an emergency. Past hotspots I owned allowed me to share my data with anyone by SSID and password, and if I needed to fix their computers or snag a file for a business meeting... Asking someone to sign up for Karma in these situations really is too much to ask. The Karma NEEDS this option if they want me to continue buying data from them after my allotment runs out. I understand it goes against their business model, but their business model provides a terrible experience for me as the primary user of this device. All said, my cell phone bill is literally $0 now, so maybe I shouldn't complain too much.
  • Hi Benjamin—Liz from Karma here. Three hours of battery life is definitely not typical of how the device should perform and what we've been seeing from other users. Can you send us an email at help@yourkarma.com? We'd like to troubleshoot your device a bit. Thanks!
  • 3 hours seems Ok
  • Can you use the device while it is charging?
  • YES
  • Portable battery Charger Model Pilot 2GS charges the phone and KarmaGo at the same time.
    You have the option of the SSID to share for an extra $10 a month
  • Save $10 off your Karma Go here: www.BestMobileWiFi.com You can connect up to 3 devices and your rewarded 100 MB in FREE data every time someone signs on to your signal. All your information is safe and they would be using their own data at that point. Its a great back up wifi if your on the go.
  • That is still happening. Yes I am getting a lot of those rewards because I am taking my KarmaGo with me all the times.
  • Interested in your own Karma Go use this link and save 10$
    https://yourkarma.com/invite/frank35658 also check out new forum @ karmahotspot.proboards.com
  • Frank that is great. I did the same and they stop givin me the $10 after I reach almost $100 I did "sold" those referals up to 20 a moth and they stop "rewarding me" There is not control and they do not tell you if your referals are going through or not. They just stop paying you for your referals.
  • Karma Neverstop unlimited is no longer 5Mbps. http://turnpageconsulting.com/karma-is-a-well-you-know/
  • I purchased it last week and it was advertised as 5mbps with Neverstop. But when I received it this week it produced only 1.46mbps. I emailed Karma and they send a response saying they have had too many people using it so they lowered the speeds. A day later they changed their website to say 2-3mbps and the speed tested to be 1.96mbps. This is false advertising and very shady. They now won't respond to my complaint about the 5mbps false advertising. I would avoid this company like the plague.
  • if you want to control Who is using your devise you have to pay an extra $10 Ok,.... I am not sure they are changing plans and rules every time that go to the bathroom
  • I am in charge of events at our non-profit organization, and we like to show a few minutes of YouTube videos at our info meetings. Do you think these speeds would be fast enough to do this without a bunch of maddening buffering? Thanks
  • Download the videos to your laptop and play it? $150 for a device and $15 dollars for GB do the Math
  • I ordered Karma's $50 plan for unlimited internet, but by the time the device arrived Yourkarma.com had unilaterally switched the agreement which turned out to be $50 for 5 gb of data, which does not compare favorably to other companies at the top of the market. As compensation, they offered to take $10 off of my bill for next month if I remained a customer after their bait and switch (no full refund). They made $50 from their scheme, nothing I can do apparently. Their use of the word karma in their name is a sad bastardization of the English language, capitalism, and free speech. One can only hope that the wheels of karma turn in their direction.
  • Did somebody check the plans NOW ? Seems that Karma becomes one more of the bunch.