GlocalMe U2 full review
The GlocalMe U2 is an Indiegogo-funded project that offers a mobile Wi-Fi router quite unlike others on the market (see our round-up of the best Mi-Fi routers). It's best suited to frequent travellers who want to quickly and cheaply get online anywhere in the world, but it's a useful device for back home too, especially for business users who are tired of dealing with flaky internet connections while commuting and even in the various boardrooms they visit.
With embedded encryption the U2 also presents a safer method of getting online than connecting to potentially vulnerable public Wi-Fi hotspots.
It's able to work as a standard Mi-Fi device, sharing the data connection of a mobile SIM (the network-unlocked Glocal U2 accepts both full-size and Micro-SIMs) with up to five devices, but what's more interesting about the GlocalMe U2 is its cloud-SIM functionality. You don't need to insert a local SIM in this mobile router in order to get online in over 100 countries - you simply put some PAYG credit on it or buy a data pack and away you go. Also see: Best SIM deals
GlocalMe works with multiple network operators including AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Orange, China Mobile, Vodafone, T-Mobile, O2, China Telecom and China Unicom, and supports a wide range of connectivity bands. Because it will automatically connect to the best network wherever you are, you'll often find - as we did - that getting online via the U2 is faster than with your current SIM.
Most data packages last 30 days, and the U2 itself can keep going for up to 12 hours on a single charge, which should easily power you through any working day. When the 3,500mAh battery runs down charging is fast (around 3.5 hours) over a 3A Micro-USB connection.
GlocalMe U2 review: UK price and availability
Originally an Indiegogo project, the GlocalMe U2 is now available via Amazon in the US, where it costs $129.99. If you want to buy one in the UK you can still do so through the Indiegogo page, where your $129 purchase will also get you a bundled €20 top-up. This converts to around £104 in Sterling, plus shipping.
If you want to use the cloud SIM functionality, you have various options available to you for topping up. PAYG data is charged at €0.05 per MB, and can be used in any country you like. The minimum top-up is €20 at a time, which can be made via Paypal or Alipay.
Alternatively, you can buy a 30-day or annual data package that includes a set amount of data for a single country or a group of countries (for example, Europe). Prices differ between countries due to local pricing, for example 1GB in Vietnam will cost you €5 but €7 in Great Britain. You can see some of the pricing in the table below (click to enlarge).
If you use a lot of data watching videos and downloading large apps and games, for example, the GlocalMe U2 isn't going to be a particularly cost-effective solution. In these scenarios you'll quickly gobble through any data you have purchased; but used merely for checking emails and getting online a gig or three of data can get you far. Also see: How to minimise data usage on iPhone and how to minimise data usage on Android
There are a couple of unlimited data packages, but these are not truly 'unlimited', in fact restricted to 2GB per month at which point the speed drops to an all but unusable 128kbps. (The U2 is otherwise very fast, capable of up to 150Mbps downloads and 50Mbps uploads.)
It's worth bearing in mind that if you frequently travel to different countries and are constantly switching SIMs to achieve a cheaper local rate, and perhaps don't even use all the credit you've purchased during your visit, this solution from GlocalMe will be both cheaper and easier to manage.
The accompanying GlocalMe U2 app gives some suggestions on how you can minimise data usage in order to keep down costs. For example, you can ensure Google Play doesn't download any app updates without your permission, or that apps aren't using data in the background. Pleasingly, we found these instructions were specific to the phone model on which the app was installed - here you can see some tips for MIUI 8.0, which we are running on our Mi Mix to test the GlocalMe U2.
The GlocalMe U2 supports a range of connectivity bands, although it still won't work with every network in the world. Supported bands include LTE-FDD 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/17/20, LTE-TDD 39/40/41, WCDMA 1/2/4/5/8, CDMA/EVDO BC0/BC1 and GSM 1900/1800/900/850MHz. For the UK at least, that means it supports all 4G networks (LTE-FDD 3, 7 and 20).
The company claims its device works in over 100 countries, but bearing in mind there are 196 countries in the world there will still be areas that are not covered. For example, I'll be visiting Cuba in the summer, and that's one place sadly not on the list (I hope the venue has good Wi-Fi!).
The current list of support countries is as follows (click to enlarge):
It's worth noting that the U2 is not the only cloud-SIM device offered by GlocalMe. There's also the GlocalMe G2, which is larger and heavier thanks to a built-in LCD screen and 6,000mAh battery that allows the device to also be used as a power bank. By comparison the U2 is controlled entirely by a mobile app. The G2 accepts only full-size SIMs, which isn't much use to us here in the UK without an adaptor, and supports fewer connectivity bands. It's also more expensive, currently priced at $149.99 at Amazon US.
GlocalMe U2 review: Design and build
We have to say that as useful as we think the GlocalMe U2 is, we aren't too keen on its design. Yes it's reasonably slim and lightweight, at just 14.2mm thick and 151g in weight, and no taller or wider than the average smartphone, but it just doesn't look like a device that costs over £100.
Partly this is down to its plastic build (though this is probably a good thing in terms of reception, as metal can block cellular signals), but neither are we keen on the way the front panel comes off in order to access the SIM slots (none of which are Nano-SIM so you may need an adaptor) - we'd much prefer to see pin-operated SIM trays. To be fair there is no creaking or flexing as a result, which is something.
There's also a very ugly protruding corner at the top right, which has a hole through it for a lanyard. It reminds us of early mobile phones with their poking out antennae. The U2 will quite happily slip into a pocket, so there's no need to be attaching it to anything unless you're particularly prone to misplacing things. (If you are then it's worth noting that you can deactivate the U2 from within the app, making it unusable should it fall into the wrong hands.)
Also making us feel as though this is something from the dark ages is the small reset button that sits just above the power button on the left edge. This surely could have been hidden away under the removable panel. Also see: Best UK mobile network
And then there's the lack of an LCD screen. We totally get GlocalMe removing it from the G2 in order to keep down the size and price, but actually we quite like the ability to see at a glance exactly what is going on. And when it comes to a device such as this we'd like to be able to see how many devices are connected to it, how strong is the signal, and how much battery power remains. Two of these three things are available within the mobile app, but there's no scope for managing connected users unless you log into Device Management through a web browser (head to 192.168.43.1 and enter admin for both the username and password).
Instead you get a row of four LEDs across the front plus three symbols for Wi-Fi, reception and battery. By default the Wi-Fi symbol will be lit when the device is connected, and the LEDs below switched off. Pressing the power button on the side activates the battery symbol and LEDs below to show you the rough remaining capacity, while pressing it a second time activates the reception icon and the four LEDs instead show you how strong is the signal.
The colour of our review sample doesn't help things, a sickly gold colour that has been popularised by the iPhone and other recent flagships, but we have to say it looks far more attractive in space grey.
One thing we would like to see in a future version is the ability to add a microSD card and wirelessly share its contents between connected devices.
GlocalMe U2 review: Setup
To set up the U2 you first need to download the GlocalMe app, though when we scanned the QR code in the Quick Setup guide to access the download page a 404 Error was returned. When we then browsed to the main site to manually search for the app we weren't able to scan the QR code because we were already using our phone. It's an awful lot easier to simply search Google Play or the App Store for the free GlocalMe app, which is exactly what we did in the end.
You'll need to register for a free account within the app, which is reasonably straightforward but for some reason it wanted to know our Passport or ID Card number. Not having this information to hand we decided to close the app and come back later, at which point it became apparent that it worked just fine without us entering this information.
Now logged into the GlocalMe app you can activate the U2. You'll be instructed to scan the QR code on the back of the device, which was simple enough. We didn't need to purchase any data since this was a review sample, so instead powered on the device and connected to it as we would any other Wi-Fi router (the password is also printed on the rear of the device). Do note that it can take a couple of minutes to establish a connection, particularly when used in a new location. Also see: Best power banks
You no longer need to use the mobile app unless you want to check how much data you have remaining, see your traffic and purchase history, top up or deactivate a lost device. It can also show you the exact battery capacity remaining in the My Device menu.
Made in China, some things have been lost in translation, but we still found the app pretty easy to use. The only thing that really confused us was the permanent link in the My Device menu to activate your device, even after the U2 had been activated. It isn't possible to connect more than one U2 to a single account, so we don't know why this was still visible.
We also found that the data packages weren't listed in any logical order, either by the amount of data, country or even alphabetically, so we'd advise using the search option to quickly find the country you wish to purchase data for use in.
GlocalMe U2 review: Performance
So the design didn't dazzle us and the app could use a little tweaking, but one thing we absolutely cannot criticise is the GlocalMe U2's performance. We often found ourselves able to get online in places we previously couldn't on our usual Vodafone network, and in every situation we also found it faster.
4G connectivity is supposed to produce Wi-Fi-like speeds, but it's very rare that you actually get to experience those (in our experience anyway). But given good signal the U2 really can be as fast as a Wi-Fi connection.
We tested the GlocalMe using the Speedtest app in three locations: at our home, where we struggle to get online at all via the Vodafone network; at a train station during our commute into London; and in our Euston Road office. As you'll see from the chart below performance is extraordinarily good. Able to connect to the strongest network, it's like having SIM cards for every UK network installed in your phone - you'll always get the best performance.
GlocalMe U2: Specs
- Cloud SIM PAYG mobile hotspot, support for over 100 countries
- also supports standard- and Micro-SIM to function as traditional Mi-Fi
- GlocalMe U2 mobile app for Android and iOS
- connects to up to five devices
- LTE-FDD 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/17/20
- LTE-TDD 39/40/41
- WCDMA 1/2/4/5/8
- CDMA/EVDO BC0/BC1
- GSM 1900/1800/900/850MHz
- downloads up to 150Mbps
- uploads up to 50Mbps
- 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
- 3,500mAh battery, lasts 12 hours
- 5V/3A Micro-USB
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