HTC’s Hub is a smart way to get 5G this year — if the price is right

5G phones are coming, and most of them are expected to cost more than $1,000. And chances are you won’t even be able to use anywhere close to the full speed of 5G most of the time, as the carriers are still deploying their networks. The solution — if you really want to hop on 5G speeds —  is HTC’s 5G Hub. It’s a mobile hot spot that goes much further than most devices of its kind.

The 5G Hub brings you 5G without needing to buy a 5G smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G or LG V50 ThinQ. It’s a small, wedge-shaped device that you can leave at home or work, or toss in your backpack to use on the go. It’s heavier than a phone, but not enough to be dramatically noticeable if it’s in a bag. There’s a SIM inside, and in the U.S. it will be powered by Sprint’s 5G network when it launches this spring.

HTC Hub review
julian chokkattu/Digital Trends

Think of the 5G Hub as a secondary phone or tablet, because it’s running Android 9 Pie and has a 5-inch HD (1,280 x 720) touchscreen. You can install all the usual Android apps you love through the Google Play Store, stream video and play games, and there’s a USB-C port on the back to connect the device to a TV (USB-C to HDMI) so you can stream 4K content without interruptions and at a high quality thanks to 5G’s promised gigabit-per-second speeds.

Another promise of the next-gen mobile network is low latency, the delay between data transfers. This is critical, as you can use the hub to connect devices like HTC’s own Vive Focus virtual reality headset to stream games without needing to be tethered.

True 5G wasn’t available at HTC’s booth at Mobile World Congress 2019, but I played an emulated version of using the hub to play Superhot on the Vive Focus, and while the experience stuttered a bit, the vision was easy to see. Game streaming will be one of the biggest ways the average person will experience 5G’s full benefits, as cloud computing can help power a graphics-intensive game, without you needing to own a powerful computer.

The other key feature is the hub’s ability to connect up to 20 other devices, so if you’re with a team of people — whether it’s friends or coworkers — they can all benefit from 5G speeds by connecting to the 5G Hub.

HTC Hub review
julian chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Hub is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor with the X50 modem that enables it to connect to 5G networks. It’s a special version of the X50, though, as it supports the sub-6GHz spectrum. It supports the new Wi-Fi 6 standard as well, has 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and even has a MicroSD card slot. There’s a 7,660mAh battery inside, which should keep it going for quite some time, though it’s unclear what kind of battery drain 5G commands.

So should you buy the HTC 5G Hub? It all comes down to price. I think $300 or lower would make the hub the perfect way to experience 5G this year — alleviating the need to drop several hundreds more on a 5G phone. If the cost is any higher (HTC hasn’t announced pricing yet), then you may well want to wait to purchase a 5G phone in a year or two where prices will presumably drop. Keep in mind, you’ll need to factor the cost of 5G service from Sprint, as you’ll be paying monthly for it alongside your current phone bill.

The hub will be available in the second quarter of 2019, and it will work on Sprint’s network in the U.S., Telstra in Australia, as well as Three UK, Deutsche Telekom, Elisa, and Sunrise in Europe.

Again, depending on price, the Hub is a smart way to go if you want 5G service this year, but you should also make sure you’ll be able to utilize it. Sprint’s 5G network will be going live in May starting in Chicago (20 square miles), and it will eventually roll out to select areas in Kansas City, Washington, New York City, Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles.

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