The Gizmo Report: Option's GT Max 3.6 Express for AT&T

Glaskowsky reviews the Option GT Max 3.6 Express WWAN adapter for the AT&T network.

Peter Glaskowsky
Peter N. Glaskowsky is a computer architect in Silicon Valley and a technology analyst for the Envisioneering Group. He has designed chip- and board-level products in the defense and computer industries, managed design teams, and served as editor in chief of the industry newsletter "Microprocessor Report." He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.
Peter Glaskowsky
3 min read

You might wonder why I'm posting again so soon after that twelve-post blogging marathon at Hot Chips. Well, I got a new gizmo last night and I just had to write about it.

Two years ago yesterday, I bought a Sierra Wireless AirCard 860 (a PCMCIA cellular modem card) from Cingular for my Apple PowerBook G4. I also used it occasionally with my Motion Computing LE1600 Tablet PC.

When I upgraded to a MacBook Pro last November, the AirCard became semi-obsolete. I could still use it with the LE1600, but the MBP has only an ExpressCard/34 slot.

I decided to take a different route to getting the MBP on the Internet. I bought a Cingular 8525 cellphone, which can function as a wireless modem over Bluetooth. I thought it would be more convenient than an ExpressCard that has to be inserted to get online and removed again to put the laptop away.

Just make sure the phone is on, leave it in the briefcase or set it on the table, and click to connect! That was the dream.

The reality was that good, some of the time. Not so good most of the time. The phone seemed to be fine, but the Bluetooth connection would die sort of randomly. Also, the phone battery would last only 30 minutes or so in this mode, so for longer sessions I had to tether it to the MBP with the USB charging cable anyway.

I used the 8525 anyway from November until yesterday when I was able to upgrade the AirCard. I got the Option GT Max 3.6 Express (that link goes to the non-Express PCMCIA version) from my local AT&T store, downloaded, installed, and configured the Mac software, installed the SIM card in the Option card and the Option card in the laptop, and... clicked to connect. First time, bang, it hooked right up.

And I'm using it now.

My costs?

$174 out of pocket for the card plus tax and a $18 upgrade fee that'll show up on my bill. I'll get $100 of that back from a mail-in rebate. I'm committed to a 2-year extension of the data subscription, but that's cool. It's come in really handy over the last two years.

Yeah, the Option card sticks out a couple of inches, so I can't leave it in there when I put the machine away. I'll live. (The AirCard has a little wire antenna with a double hinge, so it was pretty convenient in that respect; I could just fold it back against the bottom or top of the machine before slipping the PowerBook or tablet into my briefcase.)

It's affordable, reliable, and doesn't have a separate battery to manage. What else matters?

Oh, yeah, performance. Here's what happened when I visited speedtest.net:

Speedtest.net reports 997 kb/s up, 332 kb/s down, with 166ms of ping latency

And that's with only three out of six bars of signal, according to the software. I'll update this when I get a chance to test it somewhere with full signal strength. (Under ideal conditions, the AirCard could touch 2 Mbits/s.) In the meantime, count me among the satisfied customers.

[A quick update the next morning-- that first session, during which I wrote this blog entry, ran a little less than two hours before the connection dropped. I reconnected and left the machine on all night; the Option card stayed connected. This morning, after going into the office (transporting the system with the card removed), the card wouldn't connect at all until I removed and reinstalled it; presumably something failed to initialize properly the first time. That wasted a few minutes, but it's been working fine since then. Signal strength is about the same here as at home, and so is the performance. Still satisfied.]