Skyroam Hotspot Review – Stay connected while traveling aboard
The Skyroam global hotspot is a small cellular device that provides internet connectivity in more than 120 countries across the world. Designed with the occasional traveler in mind, the Skyroam hotspot does not have any monthly subscription fees and the data is unlimited during your session. Fast internet, on demand, at an affordable price–it sounds too good to be true! There are a lot of travel bloggers out there that will write Skyroam hotspot reviews claiming the device “changed their lives.” This Skyroam hotspot review will test if the global hotspot really can stand up to its claims.
Skyroam Hotspot Review
For years, whenever I was about to travel abroad I would do the all-too-familiar song and dance of calling my cell phone service provider to enable a global data plan for me phone. These plans were really more about emergency access than casual use. For around $40 extra a month you receive a few minutes of talk and about 100 MB of data (enough to upload about 10 full resolution pictures). I would turn the plan on and then turn my phone off. Not exactly the best value out there.
In 2017 I decided to take the plunge and purchase a Skyroam hotspot before a 2 week Mediterranean cruse.
Skyroam Hotspot Overview
The Skyroam hotspot is straight forward and easy to use. You can either rent the original hotspot for about $10 a day, or buy the newer Skyroam Solis (which is a hotspot and a power bank) for $150 and then purchase day passes at $9 per day. If you only need the hotspot for one short trip, renting is the way to go. You’ll get a prepaid return package that will let you drop the hotspot in the mail in whatever country you are in to end your rental period.
Owning the hotspot outright, however, is probably going to be a more economical approach. More on that a little later…
How the Skyroam Hotspot Works
Once your hotspot is enabled, it provides a secure WiFi network for up to 5 devices. The Skyroam will present you with a WiFi network and access code that you will enter into your device to connect. That network / access code does not change, so in the future your devices will automatically connect. Once connected you’ll get 4G LTE data where available or 3G as a fall back.
If you own your Skyroam and need to purchase a new 24 hour WiFi pass you can connect to the hotspot and purchase the pass through your phone, tablet, or laptop. If you have passes available you can activate them right from the hotspot. They do a pretty good job of making this process easy.
Once connected, throw your Skyroam into a bag or a pocket and forget it even exists. The vast majority of smart phone functionality works with a data connection. Look up restaurants to eat at, view maps (with GPS) once you’re lost, call and Uber or a Lift, post epic photos to Instagram, or keep in touch with the folks back home.
For the most part, you’ll forget the Skyroam even exists and you’ll just use your phone as you normally do.
Skyroam Hotspot – Rent vs. Buy
Ok, let’s jump into the economics of the Skyroam.
If you rent a Skyroam you’ll pay $10 a day for each day you have it. This results in a fully variable cost. If you buy the Skyroam you’ll have a $150 fixed cost with a $9 variable cost (24 hour WiFi pass) for each day you use it.
The break-even analysis is simple:
Break-even = Fixed cost / Delta in variable cost
Break-even days of use = $150 / ($10 – $9) = 150 days
Whoa! 150 days to break even between buying and renting. That’s crazy! The simple math clearly suggests you should rent. But here is what actually happens:
Each time you purchase a day pass it is good for 24 hours. This means that it remains active until the same time the next day. When you’re traveling, you often have WiFi at your hotel or you’re spending a bunch of time on a plane (hopefully you got a cheap ticket so you can afford the inflight WiFi), chillaxin on the beach, or doing something epic like swimming with whale sharks. The whole idea behind traveling is that you put your devices down and you experience the world! This means you don’t actually need WiFi 100% of the time.
During the Mediterranean cruise I bought the Skyroam hotspot for I consumed 5 day passes throughout the entire 13 day trip. I never felt like I had a lack of connectivity.
Based on my experience across multiple international trips I estimate that the number of day passes needed can be calculated by dividing the total trip duration by 2.5.
Skyroam Hotspot – Rent vs. Buy (Round 2)
To do a proper analysis, you have to factor in all variables that are not expressly apparent. For our second break-even there are three changes we need to make:
- Sign up for Skyroam’s email list to get a 15% discount on purchasing a hotspot ($22.50)
- When you purchase a new Skyroam you get one free 24 hours WiFi pass ($9)
- It’s unlikely that you will use your Skyroam non-stop on a trip ($25/week)
Here is the new math:
Break-even days of use = ($150 – $31.5) / ($10 – [$9/2.5])
Break-even days of use = $118.50 / $6.40 = 18.5 days (Let’s round up 20 days to be conservative)
Wow, 20 days is a lot different than 150 days!!! For me, that worked out to about 3 trips. Seemed like a no brain to purchase instead of rent. My friends love to borrow my Skyroam, and I even use it domestically when I need to work while traveling.
The math gets even better if you are able to pick up one of the original Skyroam hotspots refurbished on Amazon for about $80!
Skyroam Hotspot Connectivity
Okay, we’ve gone through how the Skyroam works and the economics of renting vs. buying a Skyroam hotspot. No Skyroam hotspot review would be complete without some conversation around how well the darn thing works!
Throughout our trip to Italy and Croatia we had no problems with connectivity while in reasonably populated areas. The Skyroam was a godsend during our epic 24 hour visit to Rome.
We did find that we lost our connection inside of some buildings and it was much easier to start up the Skyroam when we were outside. This was a bit surprising given how strong cell phone connections are these days.
Will the Skyroam work on a Cruise?
Our first journey with the Skyroam was a Mediterranean cruise. A very reasonable question is: Will the Skyroam work on a cruise?
For anyone who has taken a cruise before, you know how ridiculously expensive WiFi or cellular service can be while in open water. Unfortunately, the Skyroam will not be your solution to open water WiFi. That data is transmitted via satellite and is not cheap.
That being said, the Skyroam does work on the cruise boats when they are in port or very near land. Depending on your itinerary, this may be enough to skip the hundreds of dollars you have to spend for WiFi on some cruise boats.
Will the Skyroam work in the U.S.?
Interestingly, I’ve found the Skyroam connectivity to be sub-par while in the USA. To get the Skyroam to connect I need to be near a window and in a well populated area. I spend quite a bit of time in both Boston and San Francisco, and I’ve had a harder time connecting my Skyroam in those cities than I have while traveling abroad. If I’m in a semi-remote area (e.g. skiing in Vermont), forget about it.
Keep in mind, I have the original Skyroam and not the new Solis. It’s possible they have improved connectivity with the newer model.
Issues with the Skyroam Hotspot
At the start of this Skyroam hotspot review I mentioned that it seemed too good to be true. Well, there are a few issues with the product that are worth noting. I’ve identified three issues with my Skyroam hotspot that are important to know. While these issues aren’t significant enough for me to stop using my Skyroam, they do significantly change my perception of the product. These issues are (in order of importance):
- Connectivity – In Europe I did not have any significant problems connecting, but in the US coverage seems to be sparse. Without a strong connection, the Skyroam has a hard time turning on / booting up. My cell phone has zero connection issues (inside buildings, on the subway, in the middle of nowhere), so it must have something to do with Skyroam’s network partners.
- Startup Time – Without a strong connection, the Skyroam just sits at 15% booted. This is a terrible user interface behavior. The device should be clear that it has booted, but is struggling to find a connection (or downloading an update?). That would give the user the ability to move it to a more favorable spot, or give up and pursue other means of connectivity. The latter shouldn’t be necessary, but for me it has been more than once. Most recently at the international terminal at the SFO airport (seriously?).
- Battery Life – This is largely fixed with the new Solis that contains both the hotspot and a power bank. The older hotspots will only last for about 10 hours. Be sure to charge them overnight and have a good power bank / portable charger with you if you are planning on being out and about for a while.
The Bottom Line on the Skyroam Hotspot
Despite some of the issues I’ve experienced with my Skyroam, at the end of the day it is still a unique product that serves a distinct need. I don’t travel without it. While I sometimes have issues connecting, when I do have a connection it is fast and consistent. Reading emails, sharing photos, and even streaming movies are all enjoyable with the Skyroam Hotspot.
So if you’re traveling internationally and want to avoid the outrageous carrier fees for your cell phone, consider picking up a Skyroam. You’ll be glad you did. And if you found this Skyroam hostpost review helpful, or have additional questions, please add them in the comments section below!