Skyroam Solis X

Skyroam Solis X

Frequent travelers, particularly international travelers, will be intrigued by the  Skyroam Solis X ($179.99), a device that promises to be a WiFi hotspot that you can use around the world.  

One of the first things I do after arriving in Europe is to pick up a SIM card that gives me a month of phone and data service in whatever country I'm in.  This usually runs me about forty dollars.  On the other hand, it often takes a couple of hours to get the whole thing up and running, a frustrating period when you want to get started on sightseeing!   

Equipped with the SIM chip and plan, I can share photos, make calls and texts, access the internet, and get GPS directions.  Why not use my regular, stateside carrier?  Well, AT&T has two plans, both of which struck me as too expensive.  One choice, a 10 dollar a day plan, gives unlimited calls, internet, and texts.  The other, for 70 dollars per month gives 2 Gig of Data, unlimited texts, but then charges an additional 35 cents a minute for phone calls, not just for calls back home, but for calls you might make in the foreign country to make reservations, call for a taxi or otherwise.  

That is why I was fascinated by the Skyroom Solis X ($179), a device that promises to be an international hotspot you can carry around in your pocket, and much more.  The hockey-puck sized gadget has a 4700 mAh rechargeable batter, so it will work on-the-go, and can even be used to charge other devices.  Also built-in is a  camera.  Equipped with this and a Skype account, in theory, I could travel without losing the time at the local Vodaphone store.  Even better, up to ten travel mates within the range of the unit could also access the internet through the device.  They also sell a "lite" version of the device ($119)  that omits the camera and power bank, but I think the ability to have the device work even when you're nowhere near power is important.

Unfortunately, I won't get a chance to travel internationally until January, 2020, but I did test the SolisX here (and as it turns out, that was a very lucky thing because it took more than two hours to set up the unit, and the results were uneven).

Let's talk pricing.  As with the phone plans you're presented when you walk into a wireless store you have to assess which one will work best for you, and you'll probably make this judgment without perfect knowledge.

First, consider that none of the plans give you cell phone service.  So, unless you can get by with Skype or some similar service, this is not an exact replacement for a SIM card.

There are three plans:  A day pass costs $9 for 24 hours of unlimited WiFi for service on up to 10 devices. The charge is non-recurring.  There is also an unlimited global monthly subscription, that costs $99 per month.    Finally, you can buy a by-the-gigabyte plan that costs $9 per gig in Europe or $6 per gig in the US.   

Setup was probably the worst of any gizmo I've tested this year.  I had seen a video another user posted that stressed how important it is to set up the device before your trip, and I couldn't agree with her more.  It took more than two hours to get everything working, and even then things were not quite fully operational.   In theory, you download an app, power up the Solis X, connect to it in your wifi-settings on your phone, and get to the internet.  Had I been overseas at the point I tried to set it up I never would have succeeded.  Who wants to spend hours on the phone internationally with support when you're on a business trip, or worse, a vacation!

In my case, every time I tried to use the app, I would (and still do) get a message that says "Oops something went wrong".  Three long calls later it turned out that many users are having what was described to me as "trouble with the app".  I was told that they still don't know what the problem is, but that there is a workaround.  Rather than using the app, you are supposed to connect to the WiFi on the Solis X (through the phone's settings screen) , open a browser, and then log into "a.skyroam.com".  It worked, but those instructions aren't in the documentation or the app, and weren't provided until we troubleshooted the whole process of setup.  I would have been much happier if we had just skipped directly to the workaround without wasting time.  

Once connected, the Solis X provides 4G LTE wireless broadband.  However, speed was extremely variable.  In one place I got less than 1 megabit per second (MBps), and could not stream.  However, in another test I got about 8Mbps, and was able to stream video without lag.  

The Solis service works in over 100 countries, in every continent except Antarctica.  However, check the list found on this page to make sure it works where you're headed.  For instance, it works in Nepal, but not in Bhutan.  

Since it relies on the local cell service, your speed and even internet availability is subject to it being able to connect.  You'd think that this would mean that if your phone can get service, so should the SolisX.  However, I found that in the slowest test I was getting excellent service on my phone but almost nothing on the SolisX.  I suspect this has to do with the unit and my phone using different carriers.  

I will try the SolisX on my next international trip.  I think it likely though,  that I will continue to rely on  local SIM chip for those trips.  On the other hand, my overseas travel is relatively infrequent and often solo.  If I was routinelyand frequently going to many locations around the world with my whole family, this device might be handy and cost effective.  I would always have internet access regardless of where I was and without making huge payments to AT&T, and without the time lost at the local carrier securing a chip.  Everyone I was travelling with would also have a connection (as long as they were near my SolisX).

Bottom line, when this product gets a good signal, it provides good service, provided you've set it up before you travel. Whether it makes good economic sense depends on your use-case scenario.