Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hot Spot review: Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hot Spot
Introduced at CES 2010, the Sprint Overdrive is a mobile wireless router much like the MiFi, except that it's capable of both 3G and 4G speeds. It works on Sprint's WiMax network and allows you to connect up to five devices at a time. The only drawback is that Sprint's 4G network is limited at this time, so not everyone is going to enjoy the broadband-like speeds. That said, Sprint has plans to expand its 4G coverage to reach 120 million people by the end of the year and you still get 3G support. The Sprint Overdrive worked well during our tests and proved to be an invaluable tool during a recent business trip. It's a great way for road warriors to stay connected on the go while getting some of the fastest speeds out there from a mobile wireless router. The Sprint Overdrive costs $100 after a $50 mail-in rebate, and requires a two-year service contract for Sprint's 3G/4G Mobile Broadband Connection Plan, which costs $59.99 per month.
The Overdrive, which is manufactured by Sierra Wireless, measures 3.14 inches tall by 3.14 inches wide by 0.61 inch thick and weighs 4.51 ounces; it's not quite as travel-friendly as the MiFi or USB sticks, but it can easily be thrown into a bag. On front, you'll find a power button and an LCD display the size of a stamp that shows you signal strength, battery life, and connectivity. There's a mute button on top, and the bottom of the device has a Micro-USB port and a microSD card slot, which can be used for shared network storage (up to 16GB) for up to five devices. You'll have to provide your own microSD card, however, as only a charger, a USB cable, and reference materials are included the box.
There is no installation CD or desktop software, so all you have to do to get started is power up the Overdrive. Once on, simply search for the Overdrive in your available wireless networks and use the provided passcode on the modem's LCD to complete the connection. There isn't a desktop client, but you can point your browser to http://overdrive/ to see your data usage as well as enable GPS, map your location (via Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing, or Yahoo), install updates, and more. The Web client is easy to understand and use, and it works in a number of browsers, including Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari. It's compatible with both Windows (XP, Vista, and 7) and Mac (OS X 10.4 or higher).
Sprint's 4G network is currently live in 31 cities but will expand the service with partner Clearwire to Miami, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, New York City, Houston, Boston, Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Denver, Minneapolis, and the San Francisco Bay Area by the end of this year, at which point Sprint says its 4G network will cover 120 million people. If you don't live in one of these cities or wander out of a coverage zone, the Overdrive will switch to 3G. Sprint says its 4G network can provide wireless speeds of up to 10 times faster than today's 3G, with average download speeds ranging from 3Mbps to 6Mbps, compared with 3G's 600kbps to 1.7Mbps.
We tested the Sprint Overdrive in Las Vegas during CTIA 2010. Based on five tests using Speedtest.net, the Overdrive averaged download speeds of 2.61Mbps and upload speeds of 0.2Mbps; a 3.46MB photo took 1 minute and 40 seconds to upload with a signal strength of -45dBm. For comparison's sake, the Verizon Wireless MiFi offered around 1,000Kbps download and 500Kbps upload, and the Sprint Sierra Wireless 598U USB stick averaged 890Kbps for download speeds and 381Kbps for upload speeds.
The Overdrive came in quite handy during our week at CTIA, providing reliable 4G coverage and good speeds. It actually saved our sanity on more than one occasion when our hotel's Wi-Fi slowed to a crawl and in fact, we had completely switched to just using the Overdrive. Hopefully, Sprint will continue to roll out its WiMax network at a steady pace so others can enjoy the benefit of the Overdrive soon. Our only major complaint is about battery life. It's rated for 3 hours of continuous use (1.5 days of standby time), which is pretty much what we got on a single charge, but that isn't much, so keep your charger handy.