HTC 5G Hub review: Fast and feature packed

Posted: 17 June 2019 1:25 pm
News

The HTC 5G Hub can provide fast mobile broadband over 5G, but you'll probably spend most of your time on 4G for now.

Quick Verdict: The HTC 5G Hub sells itself on 5G speed, but there's not too much of it to be seen just yet. The ability to run Android apps and its massive battery are better selling points for now.

The good

  • Huge battery for easy all-day power.
  • 5 inch display for apps.
  • 5G promises high speeds.
  • Works well in 4G coverage areas.

The bad

  • 5G speeds don't live up to the hype.
  • It's huge.
  • DC charger is large and inconvenient.


A lot of the focus on the rollout of 5G networks in Australia has been around mobile phone devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Oppo Reno 5G or LG V50 ThinQ.

Alongside the phones, Telstra has also launched its first 5G mobile hotspot product, the HTC 5G Hub. It's actually the first device Telstra confirmed it would offer on 5G late last year, and I've spent the past couple of weeks putting it through its paces to see what it can offer.


HTC 5G Hub

HTC 5G Hub: Design

  • Too large for most pockets.
  • 5 inch display screen gives it much more scope than most hotspots.

You really can't miss the HTC 5G Hotspot. Telstra's hotspot devices have expanded in size over the years. The Netgear Nighthawk wasn't exactly a tiny device, but the HTC 5G Hub dwarfs it entirely. It measures in at 129 x 100 x 43 mm with a carrying weight of 340 grams, so it also has the distinction of being the heaviest 5G device you can buy.

Some of that mass is taken up by battery capacity, but it's also to enable the HTC 5G Hub to have its own 5 inch display. In pure smartphone terms its resolution of 720 x 1,280 isn't exactly mindblowing, but it's really what HTC is doing with the screen that makes it quite different from other hotspot products.

Controls are utterly minimal, with a power button at the top, and power, USB C, SIM card slot and Ethernet around the back. The HTC 5G Hub is wrapped in a fine fabric finish around the sides, which makes it nicely tactile when you do pull it out of a bag. Again though, it's an utter brick so you're not exactly going to miss it.

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HTC 5G Hub

HTC 5G Hub: Performance

  • Snapdragon 855 makes it quite powerful.
  • 5G coverage and speeds are patchy.
  • Doesn't always track 5G connectivity properly.
  • Runs many (but not all) Android apps.

Where prior hotspot products were very much single-use devices – you fired them up, connected your Wi-Fi compliant devices and slurped up as much data as you could handle – the HTC 5G Hub is built as a more fully featured Android 9 device.

On first boot, you're faced with what appears to be a standard hotspot interface, with dials for the number of connected devices, the current signal strength and a display for the network name and password for easy sharing. By default, this is set to always show SSID and password, so if you don't want to share with others, you'll have to disable that feature in the device settings.

In the manner of dating apps, if you swipe the screen, you're met with a more standard Android interface, because this is actually an Android device. In many ways, it's a flagship Android phone, only without the phone, microphone or camera parts you'd expect in a premium device. It's running on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor with 4GB of RAM and just 32GB of onboard storage, although you can boost that with MicroSD cards if you feel the need.

Having Android compatibility available and unlocked means that the HTC 5G Hub is a much more flexible device than any other dedicated hotspot I've ever tested. You could install a mail app and get it to check your mail, stream video or even play games on the HTC 5G Hub, although your experiences here may vary. Most Android apps assume a vertical screen, but the default for the HTC 5G Hub is landscape, which can lead to holding it sideways. This is a little awkward for lengthy use, but it does expand its utility.

Of course, you're not going to buy the HTC 5G Hub as a semi-neutered Android handset. You're here for the speed, right?

There's a challenge currently with 5G in Australia, because while Telstra has launched its network for consumer access, the actual pockets of availability aren't all that large. Even within the Sydney CBD, where there are a few blobs of coverage according to Telstra's coverage maps, actually hooking onto 5G can be tricky.

Even when you do, speeds can be a little underwhelming, and this is always going to be slightly worse for Wi-Fi hotspots.

There's an absolutely unavoidable lag factor when you're shifting data from the hub to your device that will affect your eventual speeds. To counter that – and because I could – I've tested the HTC 5G Hub in Sydney with the Speedtest.net Android app installed on the device itself. Our editor-in-chief Angus Kidman also tested it out using it as a direct Wi-Fi hotspot. Where tests were on Wi-Fi connected to a laptop, they're noted below.

Bear in mind that all of those speeds are from the same device, and you get an idea of just how variable 5G data speeds can really be.

One quirk of the HTC 5G Hub's animated display is that it sometimes doesn't track all that well when it's fallen out of a 5G area. More than once it insisted on the display that it still had a strong 5G signal, but swiping across to the Android UI revealed a 4G-only connection.

Now, 5G access and speeds should improve over time and the good news here is that the HTC 5G Hub is a category 20 4G LTE hub as well. So when you're not in 5G areas, you should still see quite solid 4G speeds as well. I've been able to peak upwards of 200Mbps down in 4G areas already with it. Bear in mind that Telstra's network has a lot of competition on it, and you get an idea of how well it can generally perform.

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HTC 5G Hub

HTC 5G Hub: Battery life

  • 3,500mAh battery provides an easy day's battery life.
  • DC charger is stupidly large.
  • USB C charging saves the day.

If the HTC 5G Hub was a phone, it'd be a world beater in the battery stakes, thanks to the inclusion of a 7,660mAh battery. That's way larger than we've seen in any handset to date, and it does at least partially explain its rather chunky build.

It's certainly enough power to keep data flowing through to multiple devices over the course of a day. The HTC 5G Hub can support up to 20 devices, and obviously, the more you stack on, the more power it will slurp up. Unfortunately, 5G isn't prevalent enough for me to draw any meaningful conclusions about relative battery drain compared to 4G. Most of my testing of the HTC 5G Hub has been in 4G areas, and that's simply because most areas where Telstra has any coverage are 4G, not 5G.

HTC provides one of the most inconvenient DC chargers with the HTC 5G Hub. It's a rounded sideways plug, which means it'll obscure multiple sockets on a powerboard, or cover over a wall socket entirely. Charging with the DC charger is reasonably fast, with 12V charging onboard, but it's not terribly convenient.

The USB C port on the HTC 5G Hub is also multi-directional, so you can use it to top up the power on other devices. As with similar power-sharing systems, it's not terribly rapid and there's some inherent loss in overall power doing this, but it's a neat little feature regardless.

Thankfully, it's also possible to charge the HTC 5G Hub via USB C, albeit only at a 9V level. The capacity of the battery does mean it can be a slow grind if you've left it to go flat overnight, and it's not surprising that there's no wireless charging.

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HTC 5G Hub

HTC 5G Hub: Should you buy it?

  • A multi-function hub at a high price.
  • 5G isn't worth rushing towards yet, but this is a good hub.

It's inherent in the name of the HTC 5G Hub that you're meant to get excited about its 5G speeds.

The only problem there is that right now, there's precious little coverage, and what's there doesn't appear to be quite as blisteringly fast as early 5G hype might have suggested. There's plenty of scope for Telstra to improve on this score.

That leaves the HTC 5G Hub as an investment in future-proofing that also works very well as a standalone 4G hub. Adding Android apps might seem rather gimmicky, but there's a lot you can do with the HTC 5G Hub that no other hotspot can manage. It's not going to replace your smartphone to speak of, but it can do more with the data it draws down, and that could offer value to you over other options.

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HTC 5G Hub: Pricing and availability

The HTC 5G Hub is available exclusively in Australia through Telstra on contract terms only.

For consumers, 3 plans are available, at $70, $94 or $104 per month, making it the cheapest 5G device the telco currently offers. That's for plans with data only of course – it's not a fully functional phone device.

Specifications

HTC 5G Hub Specifications

Product Name
HTC 5G Hub
Display Size
5 inches
Resolution
720 x 1,280
PPI
293
Processor
Snapdragon 855
RAM
4GB
Storage
32GB plus microSD
Operating System
Android 9
Battery
7,660 mAh
Dimensions
129 x 100 x 43 mm
Weight
340g
Price
On contract
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