Terahertz radiation impinging on a lit neon tube causes additional ionization of the encapsulated gas. As a result, the electrical current flowing between the electrodes increases and the glow discharge in the tube brightens. These dual phenomena suggest two distinct modes of terahertz sensing. The electrical mode simply involves measuring the electrical current. The optical mode involves monitoring the brightness of the weakly ionized plasma glow discharge. Here, we directly compare the two detection modes under identical experimental conditions. We measure 0.1-THz radiation modulated at frequencies in the range 0.1–10 kHz, for lamp currents in the range 1–10 mA. We find that electrical detection provides a superior signal-to-noise ratio while optical detection has a faster response. Either method serves as the basis of a compact, robust, and inexpensive room-temperature detector of terahertz radiation.