Karma Mobility has recently released the second version of their mobile wifi hotspot. Their latest version is the all new Karma Go.
Their original version shipped in early 2013, and offered wifi hotspots powered Sprint's tragically doomed WiMax network. Then, in 2014, they announced a deal offering access to Sprint's LTE network.
One catch. If you want to upgrade to the new LTE service, you have to buy a new Karma device. Any data from your old device is usable on the new one, so that is nice.
What Makes Karma Different
What has never changed is Karma's core principle of data ownership and hotspot sharing.
First, you buy your data at a generally fair price (10GB for $99), and it is yours for life. Use it as quickly as you would like. It never expires. There's no monthly cost or fees. No contracts.
Second, every time you power your hotspot on, it broadcasts an "open" network that allows anyone to join. It is important to note that no one but you us using your data plan. The strangers that connect to your hotspot are offered 100MB of free surfing by simply providing a name and and email address.
You earn 100MB of free data for every guest that hops onto your device, so that's cool.
The Karma GO allows up to 8 simultaneous users/devices to connect.
Since guests are not using your data, the only thing you are giving up is some battery juice and maybe a little speed performance. But along the way, you're earning free data.
Why I Signed Up
I am a fan of the entire Karma promise on paper. I love the idea of a contract free, pay as you go offering that I can fire up whenever I'm in a pinch. I travel for business regularly, so having a device like this is super handy.
I've used other devices and services such as Verizon's Jetpack Mifi which costs a boat load of money per month with no data carry over. Plus you have to buy the device.
For about $250, I could get my hands on a device preloaded with 10GB data. $150 for the device and $100 for 10GB.
My Purchase Experience
As much as I love the promise, the experience i had reveals the challenges of working with a scrappy startup. My device took 48 days to arrive.
During the checkout process, there was no clear indication that the device would take over a month to arrive. That was frustrating because I had multiple business trips where I could have used the device.
My biggest beef with the process was the immediate credit card charge. Even though the device took 48 days to arrive, they charged my credit card the day I ordered it. Something about that dos not seem right.
It is one thing if your product is super popular and you have to take backorders. But at least hold off on charging your customers until the product actually ships. For example, Amazon does not charge your credit card until the products you have ordered leave the warehouse. Overall, I think it was an amateur move on Karma's part.
Instead, people like me each floated Karma a $250 loan for 48 days with no return.
After not hearing anything about the product shipping, I contacted Karma customer service. They apologized for the delays and kicked 1GB of data into my account for the trouble.
in the process of doing so, they said I would have the device in my hands within the next 10 or 15 days at the latest. As you can probably guess, that day came and went...and then some. After waiting a few days more, I pinged customer service again. Just another apology.
Adding insult to injury, Karma's marketing team sends you little email newsletters telling you all the awesome things you should be doing with your new Karma Go. You know, the one you still don't have.
Along the way, there were also some blog post updates about new major shipments arriving on US shores for distribution. "Your Karma Go will ship real soon...hang in there guys!"
It finally arrived today. My initial impressions are that the device and service lives up to the hype. But before I get into the rest of my initial impressions, there was another snafu.
They forgot to ship me a charging cable. #fail
The product comes in a silver hermetically sealed pouch. I tore it open and emptied out the contents. No USB charging cable.
I guess it isn't a huge problem, but c'mon. $150 and 48 days later.
One last time, I took to customer service. They responded saying that they do not have surplus cables to ship me. Instead, they provide a link to an Amazon Basics USB cable for around $7 that they suggested I buy.
For my trouble, they added an additional 3GB worth of data to my account to cover the cost of the cable.
Setup & First Thoughts
The device setup was incredibly simple. Turn it on. That's basically it. All I had to do was power up the device and connect to it as a user, and that was it.
The iOS App was also very easy to use.
Both the app and the Karma GO website show you details about your data usage and battery level. You can also change the SSID if your device to one of a small handful of preset choices. I chose "Free Wifi by Karma" for mine. It seems to be the one that will attract the most users, which will earn me extra data 100MB at a clip.
In my area, the connection speed is quite good. On both my laptop and phone, webpages loaded amazingly fast. I look forward to testing it in cities across the country.
The Karma GO also comes with a nifty little felt pouch/case to carry it around in.
Overall, I think I can get past the poor initial experience and enjoy wifi freedom.